The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) has announced that it is introducing a range of measures – including a new ‘freshwater fee’ – in response to ‘changing rainfall patterns and historic low water levels at Gatun Lake, the main source of water for the waterway’.
The ACP said that the new measures, which will come into force on 15 February, will help it to ‘sustain an operational level of water and provide reliability to customers while it implements a long-term solution to water’.
In a statement issued yesterday (13 January), the ACP said that this past year's rainfall was 20% below the historic average and the fifth driest year in 70 years and it followed ‘several years of lower than average rainfall coupled by a 10% increase in water evaporation levels due to a 0.5-1.5 degree Celsius rise in temperature’.
The ACP claimed: ‘Without fee and operational changes, the Canal's water levels are projected to drop to levels that would affect the Neopanamax and Panamax Locks.’
The new freshwater fee will be applied to all vessels over 125 feet in length transiting the Canal. ‘In addition,’ said the ACP, ‘a variable fee ranging from a minimum of 1% to a maximum of 10% of the vessel's toll will be applied depending on Gatun Lake levels at the time of transit (i.e. if the lake has a higher level, the percentage will be lower and vice versa).’
The ACP will also adjust the number of daily reservation slots available to 27, replicating the total offered during lane outages. The waterway will also require that each vessel pays its booking fee in full no later than 48 hours depending on the booking period.
The ACP added: ‘One slot for supers and one slot for regular vessels will be awarded through the auction process three days before transits. Nonetheless, the Canal will continue to provide additional capacity when possible, serving vessels on a first-come, first-serve basis.’
There will also be a ‘Vessel Visit Creation Fee’ which will be applied to all visits for transit at the time they are created in the system. This fee will be deducted from the vessel's tolls invoice once the vessel begins transit – but if the vessel cancels the visit and does not transit, the fee will not be refunded.
‘Together,’ said the ACP, ‘the new measures will allow the Panama Canal to better anticipate the number and type of ships transiting the waterway, and therefore allocate water resources accordingly.
‘In order to plan accordingly, customers will be provided with real-time data on current and projected levels of Gatun Lake, available maximum drafts, and number and types of transits when requesting transits or making reservations. The official lake levels will be published daily, as well as forecasted for the following 2 months.’
The ACP said it will ‘expand its investment programme to include projects focused on addressing the sustainability of the water supply in the medium and long-term’ and will ‘continue to dedicate a portion of its income to analysing and identifying solutions to the problem of water availability in the watershed’. One assumes that the money raised by the new fees will contribute to this investment.