Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Miraflores Lake Bypass Minimizes Transit Time at a Big Cost

by Bert G. Shelton, Professional Engineer & Research Scientist August 25, 2011

During a series of short presentations by the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) seen on U-tube last week, the rumored reason for merging the three steps planned for the Pacific end of the canal into a single lock unit – bypassing Miraflores Lake – was made fact.

In today's canal, Miraflores Lake separates the top step of the locks from the other two to avoid building critical structures on unstable ground crossed by a system of active faults. In the prior expansion plan it was also included for that reason. 

Yet, apparently the choice to exclude Miraflores Lake was made to reduce transiting time through the new lock configuration by about an hour. 

Today, with Miraflores Lake included, Canal Residence Time is typically 27 hours during the rainy season and 36 hours during the dry. That time would be 26 and 35 hours, respectively, had the canal been built without it.

However, a significant seismic risk that could shut the entire canal down – for 4 years, at minimum, based on how long it would take to refill Gatun Lake – is added by leaving out Miraflores Lake.

Furthermore, advantage cannot be taken of the protection against salt-intrusion Miraflores Lake has been seen to provide throughout the last century of canal operation.

Opting for the time savings (i.e. cost savings) perceived to become available by bypassing Miraflores Lake may seem logical from a short-term profitability viewpoint – considering that salting-up the lake does not hamper ship-traffic and no earthquake has happened along those faults since 1882 – but it is not the right choice to make.

There is very much more to consider with respect to this project's long-term profitability than obtaining that one-hour shorter Canal Residence Time.

The Rest of this Expansion's Equation

The planned single-lane of locks with three water-saving tanks per step generally needs to be operated in such a manner that during the first half of the day up to 7 ships will be lifted at each end of the canal to the level of Gatun Lake, which represents the pathway across the Isthmus of Panama. During the second half of the day those ships will be lowered at the canal's other end to sail onto the other sea. 

That process sets maximum number of daily transits, the Canal Residence Time for each transit, and the amount of water consumed in operating the locks.

That lock configuration – which includes building a dam across the faults that pass beneath Miraflores Lake, in addition to the locks themselves – will cost a given amount and require a certain level of repeated maintenance in the future.

A two-lane lock arrangement – based on the lock system of the century-old Panama Canal – is an alternative that would provide a much greater return-on-investment without these risks and without yet other risks inherent to the single-lane about to be built.

By building a two-step two-lane system now – at a comparable cost to that of the planned three-step single-lane – that would occupy about the same real-estate: 

the maximum daily post-Panamax transit capacity would increase from 14 to 24,

operating water required would reduce to 73% of what the planned one-lane needs per transit, which means 19 ships could be transited with water now slated to transit 14,

the need to expand the watershed would become less immediate, allowing for other possibilities for improving the water storage capacity of today's watershed to be adequately investigated,

the possibility of an accident in a lock chamber bringing the whole post-Panamax lock system to a standstill would be averted,

the increased risk of total system loss due to earthquake would be removed, along with damages to third parties that come with that, 

salt-intrusion would be effectively controlled averting damages to ocean ecology,

the cost of maintenance would be reduced due to fewer parts and fewer water manipulations needed in performing transits,

provisions to add water-saving tanks later could be incorporated – to permit up to 22 transits a day with the water that the planned one-lane locks will use to transit 11,

need for watershed expansion relative to this expansion would be bypassed, and

chambers could be enlarged to increase the canal's customer base.

These are some of the benefits that expanding the Panama Canal with Miraflores-type lakes bring which far outweigh the perceived “benefit” of marginally reducing Residence Time.

The Follow-up Expansion Plan

To eliminate another hour of Canal Residence Time, a second post-Panamax lane – similar to the first – is planned. Once that one is built, the plan would be for each lane to be dedicated to one direction of transits, which maximizes that system's number of transits and minimizes its water-use.

The most serious problem with this follow-up plan is that operating this lock configuration in that manner will produce the highest level of salt-intrusion imaginable. It will still use 7% more water per transit than the simpler two-lane system without tanks, and 60% more water than the simpler two-lane system with tanks.

By building a higher-capacity/lower water-use two-lane configuration now, the need for a future follow-up expansion would be postponed and, when needed, a similar two-lane system of comparable cost could be built. 

The expanded Panama Canal in the future could have – for the same investment – four larger, less-contaminating lanes in the space now planned to occupy only two. 



None of the risks and planned watershed expansions can be justified. 

For the size of lock chamber now planned – without any of the added threats to people and the environment – daily transits could be increased between 36% to 57% with an alternative configuration that uses an equal or lesser volume of water per day than what the current plan will use. 

The side-tank lock system's efficiency cannot be enhanced to enable the project to reduce its impact on third-parties and the environment.

However, with the two-lane alternatives, enhancements and special services – such as reduced Canal Residence Time transits – are possible. When time-sensitive or emergency transits arise, special handling can be arranged to reduce Canal Residence Time when needed.

Today's unacceptable plan appears to be tailred for the desires of an elite group of shippers at the expense of everyone and everything else.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Real Reason Behind “Expanding” the Panama Canal

by Bert G. Shelton, Professional Engineer & Research Scientist July 20, 2011

Those who have been following the progress of the Panama Canal Expansion project will recall that the lock design to be used was included in the plan's announcement. That the project's key system had been preselected was most unusual, a shock to lock design experts familiar with Panama Canal expansion issues.

Beyond pronouncements assuring that all possible lock configurations and ship lifting mechanisms had been thoroughly assessed prior to selecting the most appropriate water-saving locks for the project – and claiming that, due to those locks, the new system would be environmentally friendly – no technical reports that truly back those assurances have ever been produced.

Given the project's reluctance to make available details of their system selection process, outsiders have had to rely on deductive reasoning to figure out why locks are being built that – relative to other layouts – will forever operate inefficiently, increase the likelihood of transits being delayed, magnify the potential for damaging the environment irreversibly, plus deliberately introduce an extreme seismic risk that previous Panama Canal projects specifically avoided.

Building a dike that crosses a well-documented active fault-line, known to have ruptured significantly twice during “modern” times, which should it rupture again would surely result in the catastrophic loss of the entire canal, plus wash to sea everything proximate to the canal's Pacific entrance, is insane, pure and simple.

Under detailed scrutiny, making sense seems not to be a project requirement from neither technical nor financial perspectives.

The Real Reason Behind this Project

Rather than a plan aimed at improving this waterway's capacity and capabilities, the reason for launching the Panama Canal Expansion appears to have been to trigger – in short order – a multitude of port improvement projects worldwide, and also to energize the ship-building complex. Why this is so is elementary. The aim seems to have been to convince communities around the globe that it would be prudent for them to begin upgrading their ports, or their fleets as the case may be, now in order not to lose out on the coming increase in trade the canal's expansion would be generating.

In other words, the canal expansion's purpose was to be the domino that would cause all the rest to fall. One need only look at all the port expansions and ship-building activities launched in step with this project to realize that this strategy to tap into public fund in a big way has worked to perfection.

The problem is that – as determined through a more in-depth assessment of the technical merits of the system – the planned Panama Canal Expansion does not appear to have what it takes to meet the claims marketed.

The disparities noted between system capabilities and promotional claims go a long way towards explaining why a visibly spectacular and very expensive media campaign was carried-out for the expansion of a world-important canal that would otherwise have sold itself. It also explains why efforts to publicize questionable issues with the project in mainstream media continue to be blocked.

There are clearly many powerful organization profiting from the resulting upswing in business who would suffer significant losses if the canal expansion's aura of perfection were to be tarnished or its pace slowed.

Not having been preceded by the usual signs that the planning of a major project was afoot – such as the hubbub produced by lock system selection studies – this canal expansion's announcement came as an abrupt surprise. How it thereafter proceeded – virtually unquestioned – continues to be very disconcerting to those familiar with the technical aspects of that canal.

And, it would seem, the game has grown beyond expanding the canal, and generating port and shipyard work. Because no governments or reputable organizations have seriously questioned any significant elements of the plan, the “green light” has in effect been given for the unscrupulous to go after as many natural resource in developing nations as possible, which is destroying those nations' ability to become self-sufficient. Panama itself is being severely impacted by that plague, all of which is being bank-rolled by the world's developed nations whose governments appear to be “in bed with the mob”.

The goals of this seemingly “globalized con game” have clearly been met. Many of the publicly-funded income streams that were pursued have been captured – with commitments for many major projects within first-world nations obtained – plus vast amounts of cash from major financial institutions have been accessed. Rest assured that everyone “entitled” to a cut of that bounty has already gotten a share.

This money-game is simply another chapter of the financial scandal from which the world is still reeling.

From the perspective of those controlling the game, the expanded Panama Canal's profitability, efficiency, sustainability, and safety are not relevant.

The above assertions will, obviously, seem outlandish and absurd to those who are either unaware of, or misinformed about what is going on beyond the borders of first-world nations. Clearly, there is enough going on within the first-world to keep everyone in those countries busy with problems at home; so, their citizens will tend to say “let the people over there handle their own concerns”.

The problem with that is that third-worlders do not have the funds needed to fight of the abuses that first-world citizens are unknowingly funding, and in some cases supporting by force.

In the case of Panama – where the Panama Canal Expansion plus over a hundred of hydroelectric installations and dozens of highly contaminating open pit mines are either approved, under construction, or are already in operation – its common folk are generally being “benefited” negatively.

Despite all the projects having been promoted as sustainable to qualify for “development” loans, the effects of lost arable land and of drinkable water that those projects are causing are already being felt by the masses. Besides causing food shortages in-country, that drop in farm production will lead to fewer exports, which will cause first-world food prices to rise even more than what they've been driven to by the higher cost of fuel. Those shortages will lead to more people attempting to migrate in search of better opportunities, which already is a sore issue in first-world countries. In addition, the quickened pace of the global rise in temperature and sea levels caused by the unfriendliness of all those “sustainable” projects is already being noted.

Thankfully, enough people in first-world nations have caught on to the reality that their money is funding destructive mining operations and shoddy hydroelectric projects, which means there is a chance that the most damaging of them will be stopped.

With respect to the Panama Canal, the purpose of the balance of this document is to present a series of facts and observations made of its expansion in the hopes of convincing the silent majority that it is still possible – and in the best interest of the global community – to salvage the project.

To that end, key concerns with expansion of that waterway will be noted first, followed by a description of how the present project handles them. The shortcomings inherent to each component chosen will be interjected in parallel. The most appropriate technical solution for overcoming problems with the present plan will follow.

Physical and Psychological Factors Shaping the Current Canal Expansion Plan

During the joint US-Panamanian Canal administration that preceded the final gifting of the Panama Canal to the Panamanians, a several-year-long study – manned by international experts – was commissioned to assess the immediate and future needs of the canal and to set forth recommendations for ensuring its future viability. In addition to recommending appropriate watershed land-use strategies – necessary to maintain the rainfall quantities and storage capacity for present and future canal operation – the report prepared by those experts also noted that any future expansion of the waterway would require the development of water-saving locks. It also stressed the importance of minimizing the effects of salt intruding into the canal's lakes so as to safeguard the environment.

Independent technical assessments of the project plan currently underway for expanding the Panama Canal and of corresponding changes of legislation that have occurred, have found that the project does not really meet the spirit of any of that study's recommendations. In fact, other than using all the “right buzz-words” and fervently claiming to have found a “lost” water-saving method – supposedly missed by the US and other experts – that “resolved” the most important canal expansion issue, the other major concern with salt-intrusion has in effect been swept under the rug. Additionally, a previously resolved seismic risk issue has been reintroduced.

Investigations into project financing have led to the conclusion that the canal, like many other projects in Panama, has received development funds that it really should not have. Considering those points, and having experienced 8 years of mainstream media ignoring all questioning of the project, it became clear that the intent of this project was to develop a quick-and-dirty, but seemingly plausible plan, with which communities around the globe could be convinced to launch related projects, and, most importantly, convince the citizens of Panama to give the project the go-ahead vote.

The approach apparently seen as the shortest path to the goal of launching lucrative projects worldwide – all contingent on launching this one without delay – was to use as much of the US's 1930's attempted canal expansion work as possible.

Given that adding side-tanks is the only way to add water-saving capabilities to the single-lane lock layout chosen in the 1930's, that choice was locked in and a campaign was planned to convince everyone that the 1930's locks enhanced in this manner were the only possible ones – which they are not – for expanding the Panama Canal.

To achieve the true goal of capturing cash-producing contracts ASAP, it was paramount to avoid the longer but proper selection process of developing viable alternatives from which the one that best balanced sustainability and cost could be selected. To follow a more responsible time-line – that would delay the kick-off of canal expansion work, as well as the innumerable other public works projects worldwide – was unacceptable to the game afoot.

The only choice to get rich quick was to, effectively, execute a con. And, were public funds ever spent to achieve that goal!

Convincing the shipping-world that the new locks' chambers could at most be about the size of those defined in the 1930's plan was one of the first tasks to perform. It was claimed that even with the "best and only" water-saving solution having been identified, there just wasn't enough water to be had to contemplate anything bigger. Propaganda in parallel was used to hammer home the message that no other feasible or better lock solutions existed.

To get around shippers balking at the proposal to only build one lane, the sales pitch given them was that this was just Phase 1 of a two-phase project. Essentially argued was that such phasing was necessary because only sufficient financing could be gathered to launch half the work; if all had to be done at once, nothing would be done for lack of money. Promised was that Phase 2 would begin in about 10 years, about when the first phase became operational.

But, a whole different story was told to the people of Panama. Given vociferous objections from the public to the plan to expand the watershed in order to add the one lane, the local sales pitch focused on defusing the political problem that had arisen. To resolve it, it was “suddenly” realized that the water availability dilemma could be “solved” by adding a third side-tank to each chamber. Additionally, Panama's president declared that a law against new reservoirs would be enacted.

Two crowds, two stories, and neither of them really true.

What nobody has paid any attention to is that even the 11th-hour switch from two side-tanks to three was a preplanned ploy. As discussed in the section that follows, the two smaller side-tank locks being built in Germany at the time – which would serve to “validate” this project's selection – had three tanks beside each chamber., which is not believed to have been by coincidence. Along with the third tank, the revised plan also entailed changing lake operating levels. Doing that impacts every existing facility or developed property on the shores of enormous Gatun Lake, not to mention the lake's many dams and spillways, and the original locks. Additionally, the uppermost chambers of the new locks need modifications and lock operations need to be reassessed. Yet within a month, all of this revising was declared fully completed and the process moved on to the referendum vote. Unbelievable.

At the Atlantic end of the canal – where the US had effectively completed the rock-blasting and digging efforts needed for building their locks – virtually all the 1930's work could be taken advantage of by the planned approach.

However, to minimize construction efforts at the Pacific end of the canal a relatively “simpler” lock arrangement was decided upon which did not use the work done previously by the US.

What was decided was to build the single-lane Pacific locks with all three steps joined together – like those on the Atlantic side – rather than follow the US's lower-risk layout. To do that, a new site was identified to the west of both today's Miraflores Locks and the lock site the US prepared in the 1930's, from where an elevated channel could be lined up with the canal's uppermost waterway – Gaillard Cut at Gatún Lake level – in order to bypass Miraflores Lake along its west bank. That plan requires building a dike across fault-lines that traverse unstable ground under Miraflores Lake.

Miraflores Lake's primary function is to protect the waterway from an earthquake-generated catastrophe. Yet included among various arguments presented has been that such a risk does not exist, because Panama “doesn't have” earthquakes. Thus, no attention is called to the sizable earthquake-induced fault displacement that used to be observable just east of the canal – where those fault-lines cross the Las Cruces Trail built by the Spaniards and that inexplicably seems to have been obliterated. Nor is it mentioned that in 1882 – during the French canal construction effort – a quake along those faults killed some workers, and project leaders sent squads into Panama City to help with repairs in the hopes of minimizing negative press reaching France that could kill the project.

Miraflores Lake's other function – that is not officially mentioned – is that it serves as a barrier to the progression of saltwater into Gatun Lake. That function has already been diminished by expansion work.

Bypassing both protective functions of Miraflores Lake goes solidly against historical fact, expert wisdom and logic. Doing so puts the canal itself, its clients and its neighbors, as well as ecology in and beyond Panama, at great risk, just so a few can make big money fast and walk away with the gamer's prize of having pulled off the world's greatest con.

Side-Tank Lock Validation

As past attempts at using side-tank locks were not exactly glowing successes, an additional project task was to establish new credentials for that system.

Virtually in concert with the Panama Canal Expansion's announcement, the two side-tank lock units being built in Germany were brought into the limelight to add credibility to Panama's plan. As the decision to use side-tank locks at the Panama Canal had clearly been made before those “validation locks” were up and running, speculation exists – that is not farfetched – that Panama's decision to use side-tanks was actually made prior to Germany “choosing” them.

If not for the Panama Canal Expansion Project needing a “successfully-operating example” of side-tank locks, it is doubtful that the Germans would have decided on their own to build new locks with tanks. After all, a simpler, cheaper, and lower maintenance two-lane single-step lock layout exists that offers comparable water-savings. The Pedro-Miguel Locks of the Panama Canal are a well-known example of such a layout. Without tanks it can operate using either 25% or 50% of the operating water normally used, dependent on the momentary traffic flow pattern. The new German side-tank locks reportedly reduce water-use to 40%.

If a more efficient two lane lock design was being sought in Germany at the time, a more likely choice would have been to move technology forward. They would have figured out how to add tanks to a set of Pedro-Miguel styled locks – as was done soon after Panama's expansion plan was announced – instead of regressing to a system choice that is proving problematic as were its past versions.

Winning the Lock Construction Bid

There is much that can be said about the delays and confusions that occurred during the bidding process, but the outcome is all that really matters.

From day one, when the consortia participating in the contest were announced, virtually everyone in Panama was certain of which group would win. And, so it was.

The victorious consortium had, as one of its members, the company that the reigning Canal Administrator headed prior to assuming his current post, a company that was already doing the lion's share of the expansion's dry excavation work. That consortium's bid was about $1 Billion less than the next lowest bid. The bid was about three quarters that of its nearest competitor, which is a very significant difference considering that all the goods and services needed must ultimately come from sources that are, in effect, themselves competing for individual pieces within the project.

Nonetheless, although quite clearly something was amiss, the low bidders were rather quickly confirmed as the winners without a bid-conditioning exercise being performed to verify the validity of the assumptions made by the various bidders that resulted in such a large gap between the two lowest bids, and also the even vaster gap to the third-lowest bid.

The fact that nobody squawked made it unquestionable that the bidding exercise was just window-dressing devised – and clearly decided well beforehand – to give the process an air of legitimacy.

It became very apparent that even the firm that managed the bidding process, a firm touted as ecologically friendly, had been chosen to add credibility to the plan. It is most likely that the expansion project was planned around shares of work that partners in the scheme had negotiated far in advance of launching it.

Rumors are that none of the contractors in the winning consortium have the know-how or the in-house experience necessary to build a first-class lock system, a job that would require far more complicated site preparations and demanding construction than the system now slated. If true, that explains why the more complex work left undone by the US in the 1930's of blasting a lane next to the Pedro Miguel Locks has been avoided, and why the relatively simpler bypassing of Miraflores Lake – although it significantly increases the seismic-risks to the waterway – was preferable.

Having to do it right would certainly take a chunk out of targeted profits.

Seeming that the Panamanian partners' prize in the apparently much bigger game afoot was to receive most of the canal expansion's on-site construction work, it was imperative that the lock construction bid look credible, so a “watered-down” lock arrangement that any run-of-the-mill contractor could tackle was essential. The “simple concrete construction” theme was often repeated to promote the project as such.

While all the solutions chosen and assurances given have been tailored to make this canal expansion appear acceptable and affordable, the price to pay in the long run – unless it is re-directed and modified – will be to forever struggle with operational problems, relatively low throughput, poor use of water resources, contamination of the lakes by salt, and eventually permanent impacts to fauna of both oceans, if an earthquake doesn't finish off the waterway first.

Salvaging the Panama Canal Expansion is Still Possible

The Panama Canal Expansion Project can still be salvaged if lock construction is halted before too much concrete has been cast. Letting it ride without challenge will only confirm that con-men are firmly in control of this planet, and leave future generations stuck with the tab!

Returning to the recommendations of the experts, a successful canal expansion requires highly efficient locks to minimize the expenditure of water and, simultaneously, a lock layout that effectively disrupts the progression of saltwater up the steps. Adding an earthquake related risk by putting a dike across an active fault-line is clearly something not to do.

Stopping salt-intrusion and minimizing the earthquake risk are the easiest concerns to attend. Proven solutions for both issues are already present in the Panama Canal and have been working without a hitch for the last 100 years.

The resolution to those problems is, then: don't break what has already been fixed!

Reducing water-use requires a little more thinking, as there are four standard approaches for saving water. Finding the best combination of these for this job requires a bit of mixing and matching. But, even that is no big deal as that work has already been done.

Whereas the one-lane three-step side-tank locks now chosen combine two of those water-saving approaches (steps and tanks), the Panama Canal's Pedro-Miguel Locks combine two other approaches (side-to-side water-sharing and transit-by-transit lane reversals). Together, these two systems include all the water-saving techniques ever invented for gravity-operated locks.

Using the volume of water today's Panama Canal Locks expend during normal operations – adjusted for the relative size difference between the old and the new chambers – as the baseline for comparing competing layouts , the planned side-tank locks will use 40% of that baseline volume. The planned side-tank locks are to have a total of 6 chambers and 18 tanks.

Alternatively, a system comprised of two Pedro-Miguel styled lock units – with a Miraflores-like lake between them (serving to reduce water-use, block salt-intrusion, and avoid the Pacific-side fault-lines) – at each end of the canal, would use 35% of that base-line volume, incorporating all the layout and operational differences between the systems. This arrangement would have a total of 8 chambers, with no tanks; and, best of all, it would have two lanes.

With the single-lane three-step planned locks, a given number of ships must transit single-file in one direction until the lane is cleared and the direction of transit reversed. With a separated-two-step two-lane Pedro-Miguel styled lock arrangement, transit direction through each chamber switches after every ship to maximize efficiency.

The operations of either layout are essentially the same. Thus, comparing transit times of the two is a relatively straight forward exercise, because operating times for similar actions are virtually equal for both. Thus, whereas it was estimated that the throughput of the side-tank locks will routinely be 12 ships in 24 hours (14 when everything goes perfectly), a Pedro-Miguel styled lock arrangement would be able to routinely handle about 20 ships (24 when everything goes perfectly).

To maximize the number of transits through this two-lane arrangement water use can be reduced to 23% by adding just two tanks to each Pedro-Miguel styled lock unit. That's 8 tanks in total.

A system with enhanced Pedro-Miguel styled locks can complete 20 transits with the water the planned side-tank locks will use for 12 transits; that's 8 more transits a day without chopping down a single tree and spending more money to build new dams and lakes.

What's more, the tanks can be added later, if planned for, which additionally lowers up-front cost.

Finally, a two-lane system would be less vulnerable to total shutdown than a single-lane system. Also, the serious difficulties with blasting out a second-lane next to the first one – while it is operating – will be avoided.

Additional Comments

After the Panama Canal was fully gifted to the people of Panama, the hype has been that Panama is running the canal much better than the US ran it. What exactly does that mean?

The number of ships that can transit it today are the same as the number that could transit it just before it was handed over, which is about the same number as it could handle when it was brand new. The US performed a great deal of widening and deepening in parts of the waterway to keep up with the ever increasing number of ships that just barely fit though the locks and various channels. And, Panama continued doing pretty much the same until announcing the plan to expand.

The question is how doing pretty much the same thing translates into the claim that the Panama Canal is being run better today than in the past.

The fact that ten to twenty times more money is being made appears to be the justification for that claim.

That, however, is no extraordinary feat considering price-gouging was not permitted during previous administrations of the canal, while the present policy is to charge what the market will bear.

When the Canal Zone was administered by the old Panama Canal Company and then the joint US-Panama Canal Commission, all goods and services were under the administration's control and payroll. Everything – be it schools, libraries, clinics, hospitals, police, fire-stations, emergency services, recreational facilities, roads, bridges, power, lighting, phone services, lawns, employee housing, commissaries, postal services, port and maritime services, travel services, and on and on – was managed and maintained by the Panama Canal Company, in addition to running the canal.

The present-day Canal Administration primarily attends the canal and but a fraction of what its predecessors administered; the nation and some other private firms now take care of most of the list given above. Yet, even before the canal's expansion was announced, that organization was busily fanning out to more and more buildings, filled with progressively more personnel. Naturally, after the expansion was announced the number of buildings and occupants seemed to grow even faster.

Expansion work was obviously already afoot before the plan was announced and a lot appeared to be well underway before the vote to expand was cast, even though doing expansion-related work was inappropriate before being approved by that vote or some interim approval mechanism.

Not only did “getting” the vote pardon the work done prior to the vote, it blessed the multi-multi-million dollar promotional campaign and all the lavish marketing trips and presentations. None will ever need to be justified.

To anyone truly paying attention, the voting process for the canal expansion's approval was far from transparent and campaigning was lopsided beyond belief. Public forums were managed very tightly. They were pretty much dog-and-pony shows with set scripts. There were panelists for the expansion and there were panelists for the "alternative" rail/port facility complex. Straying from that black vs. white script was, for all purposes, disallowed. All attempts to get at “how-to” specifics of the canal plan were nipped in the bud with the use of assorted tactics, such as claiming “that's rather complicated to explain and not worth getting into as it will go over everyone's head” or “the expert on that is not present, so save it for next time”.

On one particular occasion, when a forum attendee asked why it was that the intrusion of salt had made Miraflores Lake quite brackish, but not Gatun Lake, or something to that effect, the panelist for the canal noted he wasn't quite sure, but that there was something “magical” about the third step. Thereafter, it was quite common to hear that, because the new locks will have three steps, salt-intrusion is not a concern. That, of course, is nonsense, but taking liberties with the interpretation of data and the truth was clearly considered acceptable.

Making declarations in direct contradiction to known facts – like stating that in Panama there are no earthquakes so the risk of failing the dike to be built across fault-lines is very low, when at least two major movements at those very faults have been experienced since the Conquistadors arrived in Panama – demonstrates an air of confidence among project promoters, even when the truth is not being told. This appears to illustrate why terms like confidence men or con artists have evolved.


A highly inefficient and very risky expansion is being pushed ahead for the Panama Canal that is clearly not in the best interest of Panama, nor of the rest of the world. Rather it is in the interest of those who have promoted the plans and of those who are directly benefiting from one or more of the enhancement projects underway elsewhere in the world as a result of it. Whether this project achieves its promoted purpose or not – or whether do any of the others – appears not to be a concern as long as this well-orchestrated scheme meets its true goals.

What happens after construction profits are pocketed seems to be of no concern either. For this reason questions about technical choices – the merits of which were highly advertised – have never been answered, as dialogue has been essentially disallowed. To this day, those with the power to demand accountability have not done so.

As a result of design choices made, risks to the Panama Canal and to the ecology – both on land and in both seas – will be increased without justification, plus its fresh water resources will be needlessly polluted and wastefully used forever.

The assertion that the Panama Canal is now being run as an efficient business is either misguided or could be an attempt to keep the game alive.

As is, this expansion is not a sound long-term business venture. It was not planned to be one.

Nonetheless, it is still not too late to make it sound.

The “know-how” to expand the Panama Canal – efficiently and sustainably – has existed all along, but not the moral fortitude to stand up for what is right. Transforming this project into one that is truly worth completing will require the intervention of people of stature – or power – equal to that of the leaders of all developed nations that have by default colluded with those behind this money-making scheme. Turning the tide will require faith and resolve, and a lot of hard work.

Monday, March 07, 2011

The Danger of Salt Intruding into the Panama Canal

*also published in The Panama News

No se puede exagerar la urgencia de revisar todos los aspectos de este proyecto de inmediato. Sus repercusiones se extenderán mucho más allá de las fronteras de Panamá. No es demasiado tarde para mejorarlo... si actuamos ya.

The urgency for reviewing every aspect of this project immediately cannot be over-emphasized. Its impact will extend well beyond Panama's borders.
It is not too late to improve it... if we act now.

Comité ProDefensa del Lago Gatún -- Gatún Lake Defense Committee

El Comité ProDefensa del Lago Gatún aboga por una ampliación realmente responsable y sostenible del Canal de Panamá, que usa sus recursos valiosos efectivamente y los deja sin daños para el beneficio de esta y de generaciones futuras. (Visite The Gatún Lake Defense Committee advocates for a genuinely responsible and sustainable expansion of the Panama Canal, where its valuable resources are used effectively and left undamaged for the benefit of this and future generations. (Visit

The Danger of Salt Intruding into the Panama Canal
Bert G. Shelton, Research Scientist and Professional Engineer
Leila R. Shelton-Louhi, Economist and Ethics Consultant
25 February 2011

The purpose of this document is to describe why increasing the intrusion of saltwater into the Panama Canal as a result of its expansion is not desirable, and to outline how the process can be efficiently and sustainably avoided.

Background on the salt-intrusion issue is given as it relates to today's waterway. An explanation is offered of why – because of how salt works its way “uphill” through locks – Gatun Lake's salt concentration will exponentially increase if the locks planned for the Panama Canal expansion are built and begin to operate.

Lessons learned from the existing Panama Canal salt-intrusion records – which provide a wealth of information about what does and what does not work with respect to managing it – have been drawn upon. An independent projection of the magnitude of the salt-intrusion problem the current expansion plan will create is presented, along with viable modifications to that plan that – for the same cost and using even less water – improve service reliability, plus increase the capacity added, without inducing excessive levels of salt-contamination.

Included is an overview of how an issue this serious was handled in order to gain public approval for the expansion project. Motivations perceived to be behind choices made for this project, and the lack of official concern for the negative impacts to third parties and the environment created by this project, in its present form, are discussed within the context of other damaging actions that continue today in Panama unimpeded, and even supported by questionable and unpopular changes to legislation.

This report is intended to serve as a call to influential people to intercede and bring about urgently required improvements to the Panama Canal expansion.

-Background to the Salt-Intrusion Issue- 

Since the Panama Canal opened in 1914, salt has been intruding up its locks at both ends into the freshwater lakes that ships sail upon to cross from ocean-to-ocean. Canal administrators became aware of a problem with salt-intrusion relatively soon after it opened, when potable water produced at the purification plant next to Miraflores Lake began tasting salty.

The intake to the Miraflores plant had to be moved to a location above the Pedro Miguel locks, specifically to the level of Gatun Lake at that end of the canal, where salt-contamination levels were insignificant.

Recognizing that the salt-intrusion process was an issue that needed to be understood, the canal's US administration established a salt-intrusion monitoring program. From then on, until the canal was fully transferred to the Republic of Panama, salt concentration measurements were taken at selected locations throughout the waterway. The status of that program is presently unknown.

The realization last century that salt-intrusion could potentially raise canal salt concentrations to such levels that could turn the waterway into a migratory pathway – for sea creatures to cross from one ocean to the other – prompted studies of how the meeting of different species could affect their survival. The Smithsonian Institute studied the issue for years with reports indicating that preventing that scenario was paramount.

The differences in salt-concentration measurements noted at each end of the canal, besides confirming that salt was entering through the locks at each end, suggested that salt accumulation was a function of the layout and operation of the locks, plus the mitigation methodology present at each of those ends.

-Differences in Intrusion Rates- 

At the Caribbean end – commonly referred to as “the Atlantic Side”, and where the three-step, two-lane Gatun lock unit is located – the recorded data shows that salt concentration levels within Gatun Lake have been rising steadily throughout the canal's many decades of operation, increasing at rates low enough to not pose a threat.

On the other hand, the levels in Miraflores Lake on the Pacific Side – located between the two-step, two-lane Miraflores Lock unit and the one-step, two-lane Pedro Miguel Lock unit – rose relatively quickly, but salt-intrusion has seemingly been confined to that lake itself. That small lake's presence – bolstered by its own small watershed and spillway – limits salt accumulation and creates a barrier that keeps that salt from passing onward through Pedro Miguel Locks to reach Culebra Cut, the arm of Gatun Lake crossing the Continental Divide.

Differences between existing lock layouts at each end of the Panama Canal, in combination with measurement records, are sufficient to determine not only how the process works, but what will and what won't work to control it.

With that knowledge, a projection was prepared for the expansion's currently selected lock layout. Its estimate of what will happen to the canal's freshwater Gatun Lake – if that layout is actually built and begins to operate – is quite damning.

-Layout of Current Lock Selection- 

The locks now planned – one set to be located at each entrance to the canal – are, in essence, enlarged one-lane copies of the three-step Gatun Locks, with three “recycling” tanks, referred to as the side-tanks, added alongside each step.

The selected lock layout together with its most appropriate operating mode, in terms of using the least water, form possibly the worst combination to use in the Panama Canal with respect to the salt-intrusion issue. This is unconscionable considering what can be achieved with engineering that addresses this issue.

Additionally, by opting to expand using a lock layout similar to the one on the Atlantic Side – a known saltwater pump – instead of using a layout similar to that on the Pacific Side – known to control salt-intrusion – Miraflores Lake will be bypassed. This eliminates one of this lake's key functions which is to serve as the Pacific Side salt-intrusion barrier.

Changes have already been made that reduce Miraflores Lake's effectiveness. A portion of the canal's operating water supply, that also serves to mitigate salt-intrusion today, has been permanently eliminated!

-Saltwater Movement & Controls- 

Knowing how ships and water interact in locks is key to understanding how salt-intrusion through locks occurs.

When a ship enters a chamber, it forces water out. The only place for that water to go is around to the back of the ship. The example that follows – of ships exiting in series, i.e. one after the other, from a set of locks – illustrates why salt intrudes when ships go down locks on their way to sea, not when they go up locks headed into a freshwater canal.

-Salt Enters When Ships Exit-

Consider what happens in a typical set of locks, with three contiguous steps, that is located between a freshwater canal and the ocean. As Ship 1 exits the lowest chamber – the one at the ocean end of the lock unit – seawater rushes in behind it to replace the volume it occupied.

The seaward gates of that lowest chamber are then closed and water is let in from the one above – the middle chamber – where exiting Ship 2 waits. That operation simultaneously raises the lowest chamber's water level and lowers that of the middle one. The process stops when their levels match.

Then the gates between those chambers open and, as Ship 2 pushes into the lowest chamber, a volume of the brackish water – equal to what the ship displaces – is forced from the lowest chamber into the one above, i.e. “uphill”.

That process is again repeated when Ship 3 in the uppermost chamber is lowered a step and moves ahead, forcing the brackish water into the uppermost chamber from which that ship left.

As Ship 4 enters the uppermost chamber, it displaces salty water into the freshwater canal. What Ship 4 and the subsequent ships in the series inject into the lake is what the salt-intrusion issue is all about. The salt content in the water that Ship 4 forces into the lake will be the lowest of its series; the salt content of the water injected into the lake will rise with each ship exiting after it.

Eventually, as a result of the intrusion process, the canal and ocean salt concentrations equalize.

How much salt intrudes into a canal system is dependent on the layout of its locks and on how they are operated, as illustrated by the Panama Canal.

Today's Panama Canal locks contain two lanes in every unit. As previously described, Gatun Locks is a unit with three contiguous steps. Between it and the two units on the Pacific Side is man-made freshwater Gatun Lake, the largest in the world when the canal was built. Miraflores Locks also have contiguous steps. In its case, two instead of three, while Pedro-Miguel Locks have only one. Between these two units is the protective body of water, known as Miraflores Lake.

-Effect of Operating Choices-

By good fortune, it was too costly to make Culebra Cut wide enough to permit continuous two-way traffic through the Panama Canal when it was originally built. Were it not for the limitations created by “the Cut”, the worst operating sequence in terms of salt-intrusion – transiting a lane continually in one direction – might have been adopted in order to use the time and water spent in reversing lanes to transit a few more ships.

Culebra Cut forced a somewhat less efficient transit pattern – in terms of time and water-use – to be adopted. Today ships enter at both ends during the earlier half of the day using both lanes and exit during its latter half, also by way of both lanes. This pattern brings in less salt than lanes continually dedicated to one direction of traffic, because salt concentration in the lock chambers must build up again each time the ship exiting sequence through a set of steps resumes.

Miraflores Lake was originally included in the canal's design to serve as a water “bridge” over active faults which ruptured during the French canal-building attempt. Later it was also found to serve as a barrier on the Pacific Side, shielding Gatun Lake from salt intruding at that end.

-The Miraflores Lake “Shield”- 

Salt-concentration measurements show that Miraflores Lake's water has stratified. Unlike the saltwater in a chamber that mixes well during filling and draining operations – once it is in Miraflores Lake – the heavier saltwater tends to settle to the bottom in the absence of similar mixing.

Thus, the lake has a layer of very salty water at the bottom with a layer of fresher water on top. Near the Pedro Miguel Lock unit that freshwater layer is apparently thick enough that ships entering and exiting those locks interact primarily with it. Consequently, not much saltwater ends up in that unit's chambers.

At the rate water is drained from Miraflores Lake to operate the Miraflores Locks, salt in the lower layer is not able to diffuse fast enough upwards for the water that gets into the Pedro Miguel lock chambers during ship transits to have much salt in it. Water for Miraflores Locks is extracted at a level near the bottom of the lake and the lake is continually replenished with freshwater by way of rivers and the Pedro Miguel lock operations at the far end of the lake in a way that does not induce mixing with the deeper saltwater layer.

Bypassing Miraflores Lake entirely adds unnecessary and avoidable risks to the Panama Canal system while eliminating all of the protective benefits it provides today.

Today's expansion plan, it would appear, simply ignores a century's worth of data.

-Magnitude of the Problem-

At the Panama Canal the less-than-desirable one-way ship exiting pattern is interrupted with the daily lane reversal which repeatedly resets the salt concentration build-up process created by that problematic operating sequence.

Nonetheless, what is injected into Gatun Lake via the Gatun Locks on the Atlantic Side has resulted in a slow, but steady increase in salt concentration near them. That has occurred despite those locks not being operated in their most contaminating way, and despite releases of that contaminated water through Gatun Spillway – located just to one side of them – flushing it to sea with excess freshwater in quantities rivaling the volume today's canal expends to transit ships.

In other words, the spilling or release of about five times as much water as what originally brought up that salt through Gatun Locks is not quite enough to fully flush out all of what intrudes.

-Calculating the Volumes- 

To arrive at that figure of five (5) times, recall that saltwater is introduced for the most part during the ship exiting process. Exiting ships at Gatun use up one-quarter of all the water used to transit ships, and that quarter brings in salt. On the other hand, the equal quantity of water used to raise entering ships at Gatun expels some of the contaminated water.

Each of those quarters of the transit water represent one-eighth of all the water that enters the canal from rain. If one-eighth removes salt through Gatun Locks, and four-eighths flushes it through Gatun Spillway – or through the power plant at that same location – then more than half, or five-eighths, of the total water input to the canal is involved in salt removal; and, that falls short of being enough.

Salt is extremely hard to get rid of once it gets into the canal system.

Note that because Miraflores Lake controls salt-intrusion at the Pacific Side of the canal, operations at that end are not relevant to this calculation.

If this expansion is not modified and if the side-tank locks are built and put into operation, a significant portion of the water – that today serves to flush salt from the canal – is going to be used instead to transit more ships through a third set of locks.

This would make things worse by throwing today's Panama Canal system further out-of-balance, not to mention that half of the water the selected future third set of locks use will be bringing more salt in, and both ends of the canal.

As excessive quantities of salt begin intruding at both ends of the canal, the Miraflores water purification plant – that supplies Pacific Side canal areas with potable water – and the canal's Atlantic side plant at Mount Hope, as examples, are going to lose their supply-line. This bodes very poorly for not only canal area operations, services, and residents, but also for the cities of Panama and Colón.

-Prognosis for Potable Water Supply- 

Panama City has been without reliable potable water service since about December 7, 2010 when its own water plant – which gets its freshwater supplies from Madden Lake as opposed to Gatun Lake – effectively collapsed following unusually heavy rains causing turbidity that overtaxed and failed key equipment.

Problems at the Madden Lake filtration plant – reported a year-and-a-half ago to the then newly-inaugurated President – continued unattended – and apparently worsened – until the high turbidity levels in the lake caused its collapse. Managerial ineptitude is being alleged.

Even more disturbing is the perception, now being voiced on radio programs in Panama, that the mismanagement of water supplies may not be due to ineptitude.

Apparently, the plan now is to transfer management of the troubled Madden Lake purification plant to the Panama Canal Administration (ACP), whose plants weathered the storm unscathed. Reasons heard cited for this transfer of the Madden Lake plant to the ACP were that the organization is experienced in that business, plus management of Madden Lake waters does, after all, correspond to it.

If the thesis of this report on salt-intrusion dangers to the Panama Canal is correct, and Gatun Lake becomes salty, the ACP's only choice for the continued operation of its water purification plants – which today obtain their water from Gatun Lake – is to get water from Madden Lake.

It appears that the way is being paved for quietly transitioning into that eventuality.

Given the ACP's own water needs and the needs of its clients, and considering all the expertise it has at its beck-and-call, that such a critical issue – as an interruption of its potable water supply – could take that organization by surprise, is inconceivable.

Water is an important part of the ACP's business, and it is big business.

Nonetheless, a risk of having no backup supply for the entire canal region is being created by the current expansion plan.

If all purification plants end up drawing their water from Madden Lake, they will all have to be upgraded to handle that lake's high turbidity rates. However, that will not exempt them from being shut down during another extreme weather event.

Unless Gatun Lake's freshwater is protected, the consequences of the next interruption of potable water service will be far worse than the one now being experienced.

-Speedy Salinization-

It has been independently estimated that the two new one-lane side-tank lock units will together input 2.5 times the salt input by both lanes of today's Gatun Locks. That estimate is based on an average of six (6) ships entering each of the two new locks in the morning and exiting in the evening versus the nine (9) ships that enter and exit daily on average through each lane of today's canal.

When the new locks begin to operate, excess rainwater – that now takes away salt when released – will be used to raise and lower ships, bringing in salt. That increase in quantity of salt intruding, and that decrease in the rinsing process, will result in about an eighteen-fold (18x) increase in the rate at which Gatun Lake salt-contamination is rising.

When the planned subsequent expansion adds another equally contaminating lane and Culebra Cut is widened to permit continuous two-way traffic, Gatun Lake – officially or not – is going to be renamed Gatun Sea.

-Salt-up Rate Estimate Basis-

The calculation upon which the cited salinization estimate is based for the proposed expansion lock layout is, in principle, fairly simple.

Consider that a chamber of a side-tank lock will be filled three-fifths of the way with salty water from its side-tanks. This water had been drained from the chamber itself during the previous operating cycle and stored in those tanks. Only the remaining two-fifths of the fill water – that comes from the chamber a step above – will be less contaminated. More salt in the mix means more will be pushed into the lake when the next exiting ship moves into the top chamber.

By reducing the dilution of the saltwater introduced with each exiting transit, the salt concentration in the water reaching the lake through side-tank locks will be greater. This is augmented by virtue of repeatedly “recycling” brackish water through the side tanks.

The amount of salt reaching the lake per transit will be further amplified by the fact that the new locks and the ships that will transit them are much bigger than those of the original locks.

With a working knowledge in calculating and combining ratios, it is straightforward to re-confirm the magnitude of the problem by setting up a pair of spreadsheets to simulate the two cases. One spreadsheet would be for a three-step lock layout with recycling tanks and the other for one without tanks. By following the progression of the mixing ratios up the steps, the relative concentration of what is injected into the lake by each ship in the sequence is determined.

From what is known of the planned design, it would appear that water flowing between chambers and tanks will flow in and out of the bottom of the chambers where salt concentrations would be expected to be the greatest due to saltwater being relatively denser. However, when water flows into a chamber in this way its upwelling action does a pretty good job of mixing the contents, so it is reasonable to assume that the mixture in the chamber will be fairly homogenous.

If this design is built and operated, results of investigative efforts lean heavily towards the likelihood that Gatun Lake will rapidly and very noticeably salt up, as occurred at Miraflores Lake. Only Madden Lake will be left to supply potable water to Panama City, Colón and canal areas.

Official efforts to downplay the salt-intrusion issue prior to the referendum strongly suggest this expectation is shared.

-Pre-referendum “Magic”- 

This report cites information about the dangers of implementing the side-tank locks which was available well in advance of initiating the Panama Canal expansion project.

Prior to the referendum in Panama that resulted in the go-ahead vote for expanding the canal, Delft Hydraulics, a reputable Dutch company, had been contracted to evaluate the project's salt-intrusion issue. Their report concluded there would be a salt-intrusion problem unless the recycling tanks were flushed at regular intervals to counteract their tendency to increase the concentration of salt in the mixture working its way up the locks.

Considering that the tanks are in the design to reduce the amount of water used by the locks to transit ships, having to periodically rinse them cancels at least a portion of their water-saving benefit. The time to perform the rinsing itself effectively reduces the number of transits.

With the potential expansion of the watershed threatening to become a major political roadblock leading up to the referendum, the Dutch report further highlighted the existing shortage of water availability for this design.

As a result, with a claim that a re-evaluation had been necessary, the Dutch report – that seemed logical and correct to independent reviewers – was excluded from those the project took into consideration. That report, allegedly invalidated due to a lack of certain inputs, was replaced by an ultimately more favorable assessment prepared by others able to meet the high-paced schedule set by the declared urgency of the project.

Many other strategies were used to obscure, discredit or downplay anything perceived to threaten the project with delays.

-Fanciful Deceptions-

Discussions on the subject that ensued, heard primarily on the radio, included several outlandish claims. In more than one program aired, water used to operate locks was equated to water flowing down a river.

This commentary alone suggested that deception was afoot. While most people know that saltwater does not travel up river, most do not know that shifting water in and out of lock chambers is nothing like water running downstream.

On several occasions spokesmen for the Panama Canal answered questions on the subject by stating the reason the present-day canal “does not have” a salt-intrusion problem was because “it has three steps”. One stated in a meeting that the ACP didn't really know why it worked, that it was “magic”. Clearly being referenced was the “third” step at Pedro Miguel, above which salt-intrusion is negligible.

Thereafter the third step was called the “magical” step more than once. Implied was that – given the new locks would have three steps – salt-intrusion would not be an issue. The deception was being honed.

A preposterous claim heard on radio, made by someone announced as a canal spokesman, was that recycling tanks actually reduced salt-intrusion.

The objective was to obtain project approval votes. As was privately expressed more than once by “supporters” of the project, each vote cast by a listener who believed any of these claims neutralized one cast by someone more knowledgeable.

As the referendum date approached, the ACP even denied existence of any salt-intrusion issues in its official publications. The campaign of denial was pervasive and effective.

Ironically, what is planned bypasses the very feature that effectively makes the original canal's Pedro Miguel step – to use the chosen descriptor – “magical”.

Nonetheless, systems of locks can be configured that avoid such a calamity and, at the same time, significantly increase transits in comparison to what is planned.

-Solutions to the Challenge- 

The Panama Canal can be expanded without creating the salt-intrusion risks the current expansion plan creates, with even more capacity and greater service reliability for its customers. Independent assessments continually confirm that for the “magic” – invoked by ACP representatives during the referendum – to work, and stop excessive volumes of salt from reaching Gatun Lake, requires changing the current plan.

Without question, there must be a sacrificial body of water – like Miraflores Lake – between lock steps at each end of the canal to successfully ward off the salt-intrusion demon. And, those bodies of water must be properly managed, in order to keep them functioning optimally.

Another significant benefit – of up to 50% more transits through the Panama Canal – can be achieved when these bodies of water, combined with the best alternative lock systems for this canal, are operated efficiently. This also minimizes the quantity of saltwater involved in the intrusion process.

-More Transits, Better Water Use- 

The opportunity to serve up to 50% more clients a day – with lock systems that require about the same effort to build and that use the same volume of water to provide more transits – is being disregarded, presumably in order to soothe complaints from a few customers.

While Miraflores Lake and the Pedro Miguel Lock step do not reduce the number of ships that can be transited through the canal each day, some canal clients have complained about the extra “canal residence time” that solitary lock step adds to a transit.

Apparently, eliminating their perceived “inconvenience” – which at most amounts to a handful of hours in canal waters – is being valued far and above the environmental damages to come from building a lock unit with three contiguous steps at each end of the Panama Canal.

And, what should be even more unacceptable for world commerce, is that those 50% “could-be” clients being rejected forever by this Panama Canal expansion choice will have to spend weeks – not a handful of extra hours – to circle around South America to get to the other ocean.

More competitive alternative locks – comprised of the very same components arranged and operated differently to increase efficiency and decrease salt-intrusion – could serve those clients now left without passage.

It wouldn't cost any more to have that additional capacity and the reliability a second lane provides.

What is more, benefiting from reduced water use, both lanes could have larger chambers.

These alternatives take advantage of both the lane-reversal technique – that disrupts the salt concentration buildup occurring in the chambers when ships exit in series – and the salt-intrusion preventing sacrificial lake.

-How the Alternatives Work-

A two-lane lock layout – with a sacrificial lake separating two steps at each end of the canal – operated efficiently, not only maximally disrupts the salt-intrusion process with every ship, it uses less water per transit than the ACP's single-lane side-tank system.

The simplest two-lane version – with no recycling tanks – would cost about the same to build and would use about 13% less water to operate. That would permit it to handle about two (2) more transits a day without the risks inherent to the current plan. As a bonus, when there happens to be extra water, this simplest system could handle up to ten (10) more.

Add two recycling tanks to each of the four units of this two-lane option – increasing its cost by about 20% – and the system could handle twenty (20) transits a day with the same water the chosen side-tank lock system will use for twelve (12).

Both the simplest two-lane lock layout and the one with two tanks, when operated efficiently, will maximize transits and reduce salt-intrusion because the seaside chamber will always have a ship in it. Less salt content reaches the waterway at the top of the step because the amount of salt in that chamber is minimized. In addition, the lake between lock steps blocks the progress of the salt that does manage to come up through the lower step.

The single-lane planned for the expansion today cannot compete with this. In order to operate efficiently and maximize its transit capacity, it maximizes salt-intrusion.

By contrast the two-lane alternative, when efficiently operating and maximizing transits, minimizes intrusion.

Plans already unofficially underway to build a second lane just like the one being considered for the expansion today would be a disservice to the Panama Canal, its users, investors, and the environment.

This scheme is unacceptable given how much less water-efficient single-lane lock units are in comparison to lock units with two lanes and considering the danger of contamination they add. It makes no sense to build one lane on a swath of land as wide as what an equally-priced, higher capacity two-lane design would occupy, and then carve out another equivalent swath to build a second similarly inefficient and salt-contaminating single-lane of like cost in quick succession.

The only reasonable choice for the Panama Canal is to make the change now to more suitable two-lane locks.

Given that concrete has not as yet been cast, and that all the channels being dug now would still be needed, nothing significant is lost. Yet, a lot will be irretrievably lost in the long run if that change does not happen now.

Compared to the one-lane planned – or even two of the same design – a more efficient two-lane system requires fewer components to access more water-saving techniques that allow for more transits, while reducing wear-and-tear and time spent shifting water.

In addition to the water-saving techniques built into them, each two-lane lock unit can also take advantage of the water-saving opportunity offered by the lake between steps which is also the system's salt-intrusion “shield”.

-Intrusion Shield Design- 

The sacrificial lakes between locks have to include – as is the case in Miraflores Lake – a mechanism by which to input excess freshwater and simultaneously drain salty bottom waters to ensure the stratified layer of salt in each lake is adequately depressed for the salt-intrusion “shield” to function.

That “rinsing” of the small lakes can be tied to periods of excess rainfall, when volumes that cannot be stored are otherwise released at Gatun Spillway. The flows into and out of those lakes could easily be used to produce power, which would also produce revenue.

To recap, changing to a two-lane expansion will multiply service reliability, avoid damaging the environment, and eliminate other serious risks created by the current plan not addressed in this report. Fifty percent (50%) more clients can be served although every ship will be in canal waters a few hours longer than some clients might wish. All in all, shippers will save a lot more time and money plus enjoy the increased variety and size of vessels which would be able to fit through the expanded Panama Canal system.

The value of a change to better locks – in benefits to consumers, canal area inhabitants, and the environment – is incalculable.

-Institutionalized Environmental Disregard- 

Future success of the Panama Canal expansion – in any form – is, paradoxically, under continual threat in Panama. Studies have warned for decades of the importance of protecting its watershed, yet no effective actions appear to have been taken to do so.

Laws protective of the canal watershed – based on recommendations of an official study involving international experts – were essentially annulled immediately after approval for expanding the Panama Canal was won via the referendum. This allowed business and housing projects into that critical recharge zone, seriously diminishing its function.

Since then numerous other questionable projects have been approved, along with additional changes to legislation. Their effects make protecting Gatun Lake's freshwater even more crucial.

Besides employing tactics prior to the referendum, such as misrepresenting the salt-intrusion issue – in order to improve the likelihood of gaining the project's approval vote – as previously described, Panama has seemingly taken a solid stand against self-sustainability, which threatens others as well.

-Collateral Effects and Impacts-

For example, over 85 hydroelectric projects – granted water rights using highly questionable and even illegal methods – have tied up most of the country's rivers. Impacts to agricultural production along affected rivers are already being noted.

Most recently, unpopular modifications to mining laws have been passed that will facilitate the start-up of open-pit mining that will encompass about 45% of the total surface area of Panama.

That move jeopardizes world-renown wildlife sanctuaries, creatures already on the endangered list, and the Meso-American Biological Corridor as a whole, not to mention remaining freshwater resources. Such mines sterilize vast areas, which – on the narrow Isthmus of Panama – translates to a threat of total annihilation.

Original inhabitants of Panama are already being forced off of their ancestral lands, where most of the mines are to be located. Their traditions, customs and methods of sustenance are already being systematically obliterated. Propaganda promoting racial hatred, presumably to turn the uneducated masses against the natives and gain popular acceptance of the mining plan, is on the rise.

To those actions – all detrimental to the environment and the agricultural capacity of Panama – can be added the reduction of old-growth forests from about 50% coverage to about 10% – much caused by misapplication of “reforestation” funds – over the last two decades. Clandestine gold mining reportedly afoot in most of the country's remote rivers on the Caribbean coast is also damaging resources.

All of the above illustrates why it is more than a perception that in Panama there is a continuing desire to reap short-term benefits as quickly as possible.

In the case of the canal, salt-intrusion problems do not diminish the planned expansion's projected income stream. From that perspective, there is no benefit in doing anything about salt-intrusion. Given that steps to properly resolve it would have caused “unnecessary” delay, it is clear why the problem was obscured.

In general, long-term environmental protection incentives continue to be set aside in Panama not only without the consent of the people, but despite their increasingly vocal protests which have begun being repressed with violence.

It would be unwise to accept, at face value, claims that all was thoroughly assessed in determining how the Panama Canal should be expanded and that the best solution was chosen.

-Apparent Motivations- 

The physics behind the salt-intrusion process is too basic, and comparisons like those presented in this report too easy to devise, to have gone unrecognized by engineers developing the project. Yet, the subject remained unaddressed prior to the referendum, skirted with claims of its complexity. Why the smoke and mirrors?

The seeming lack of attention paid to knowledge gained over the centuries with respect to identifying effective lock designs and methods of operating them, in combination with the effort expended to downplay the salt-intrusion issue, strongly suggests that the true objective is to move the expansion as quickly as possible to and through the “money-making” construction phase.

A growing perception, confirmed by even Panamanian politicians calling the expansion a “disaster”, is that the real plan was to hastily piece together a marketable lock layout, cleverly promote it via an expensive worldwide propaganda blitz in order to gain desired construction loans, and get on with building it to “spend” that money as quickly as possible.

For such a scenario, the quality of the end-product is irrelevant.

Not many project outsiders with real knowledge of major projects even smaller than this one could believe the 5 to 6 billion dollar project price estimate being officially declared. A so very “low-balled” price-tag suggests a less-than-serious interest in a truly successful expansion.

Set within a background of a less-than-exemplary record with respect to global environmental challenges with which all nations are struggling, where by manipulation and against the wishes and desires of its people Panama's natural resources are being concessioned-off – all at once – and at fire-sale prices, the Panama Canal Expansion Project today appears to be all about receiving the commission for brokering major deals and, disappointingly, not about creating a product beneficial to the global economy and to the environment and society in the long-term.


The Panama Canal is a piece of global infrastructure that impacts more than just the shipping industry.

Unnecessary risks created by the way the Panama Canal is being expanded today will reach well beyond the coasts of Panama. They can be avoided, including the undesirable threat of creating a migratory saltwater pathway due to excessive salt intruding into freshwater Gatun Lake.

Independent studies and experiences at the Panama Canal to-date give us the knowledge needed to configure a lock layout that maximizes service capacity and reliability, while minimizing salt-intrusion. A truly optimized system – configured from the same proven components, built for the same money and on the same site – would yield far greater returns by using water resources more effectively.

Considering that this project is being funded by taxpayers of many developed nations, the right and responsibility of making decisions concerning the Panama Canal should transcend Panama's borders to include Panama's duty to the global community.

Citizens of the world, including Panamanians, should feel free – better yet compelled – to demand accountability from their leaders to ensure that what is built in Panama is worth the price they will pay.

Given that this major modification to the Panama Canal was initiated without a proper design selection phase – particularly inappropriately for an engineering project of this magnitude – the “chosen” design along with its operational choices were never independently verified by qualified experts with impeccable credentials.

When the rushed and undemocratic referendum process – put in place to comply with treaty requirements for obtaining project approval – is viewed together with the sudden changing of laws that had protected the canal watershed from development, this expansion takes on the appearance of a sophisticated con devised to transfer wealth quickly rather than to produce a serious canal upgrade. That even Panama's own engineering society was excluded from involvement, and key politicians have called the project a “disaster”, does nothing to dispel that perception.

A lot of trade within the western world, and between it and the orient goes through the Panama Canal. Consumers worldwide will end up subsidizing higher tolls if inefficient new locks are built.

To avoid converting global investments into losses, no concrete should be poured until real engineering is done.

*also published in The Panama News

Monday, January 31, 2011

Why a Damaging Panama Canal Expansion is Being Advanced

In view of the recent revelations regarding the Panama Canal expansion project, the report below provides a valuable and timely contribution.
En vista de las recientes revelaciones acerca del proyecto de ampliación del Canal de Panamá, los aportes del informe a continuación son muy valiosos y puntuales.
Highly negative assessments of the Panama Canal expansion project by the current President and Vice-President of Panama reflect facts, not opinion. 
Las evaluaciones muy negativas del proyecto por el actual Presidente y por el Vice-Presidente de Panamá reflejan hechos, no opiniones.
Deliberately hiding this“disaster”, as it was characterized, behind hype and politics is unpardonable.
Deliberadamente ocultar este “desastre”, como se caracterizó al proyecto, detrás de propaganda y política es imperdonable.
For the world to allow it to proceed unchallenged and unchanged, would be to commit financial, commercial and environmental suicide with international repercussions.
Que el mundo permita que proceda sin impugnarlo y sin cambios, sería un suicidio financiero, comercial y ambiental con repercusiones internacionales.
Please distribute this document. The urgency for reviewing every aspect of this project immediately cannot be over-emphasized.
Favor distribuir este documento. No se puede exagerar la urgencia de revisar todos los aspectos de este proyecto de inmediato.
Gatún Lake Defense Committee -- Comité ProDefensa del Lago Gatún

The Gatún Lake Defense Committee advocates for a genuinely responsible and sustainable expansion of the Panama Canal, where its valuable resources are used effectively and left undamaged for the benefit of this and future generations. (Visit Comité ProDefensa del Lago Gatún aboga por una ampliación realmente responsable y sostenible del Canal de Panamá, que usa sus recursos valiosos efectivamente y los deja sin daños para el beneficio de esta y de generaciones futuras. (Visite

Why a Damaging Panama Canal Expansion is Being Advanced
Bert G. Shelton, Research Scientist and Professional Engineer, 5 January 2011

Without a doubt the feat of completing the Panama Canal nearly a century ago created the eight wonder of the world. The service the canal offers world markets has grown to such an extent that – despite tolls having been raised more than 1000% in just over ten years – more cargo transits it today than ever before. Clearly, it's worth expanding.

Precisely because its service is in such high demand, it is paramount to ensure that it is expanded as effectively as possible, taking into account all costs, which should fully include impacts to third parties and to the environment. A mediocre expansion, or worse yet what is being built today, is not acceptable.

Unjustifiable Costs & Damages

The plan today is to build a set of locks with three steps at each end of the canal – a single-lane with a total of 6 chambers and 18 “recycling” tanks – that will be too expensive and complicated for the service it will provide. There are far more effective designs – that incorporate similar parts and equipment, but which are more modern by one or two generations – that can markedly increase service while using less water. Moreover, with their more effectively meshed parts and operations, the more modern locks require fewer mechanical operations and less water transfers to accomplish their function than the one planned.What is being constructed has additional drawbacks. With more manipulations to perform, the locks now planned will require more maintenance than more modern locks. Furthermore, the dam over active faults required in conjunction with these locks will put the entire canal at risk, which is totally avoidable with the more efficient and more profitable newer locks.

If those facts were not cause enough to opt for better locks, what is being planned today – should it be built and begin to operate – will quickly turn Gatun Lake salty and create an avoidable saltwater migratory pathway across the Isthmus of Panama putting many marine species along both sea coasts at risk of extinction.

That could irreversibly reduce the variety of Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean catches.

Additionally, Gatun Lake's invaluable fresh water will be contaminated for no reason, other than to transfer the business of supplying Panama's public drinking water into the hands of those who recently acquired water rights to the rest of the country's rivers.
Finally, once this expansion farce is completed and the new system is operational, it won't be possible to convert it into one less harmful nor to undo damages it inflicts upon the oceans – we don't have that magic.
Knowing all this, one must ask how this expansion ended up with this plan, and why it continues on this course?

Personal experiences recounted below should shed some light.

Framing the Deception

Decisions on what would be built had apparently been taken two years prior to Panama announcing its intention to expand the canal. I conclude this from what I experienced.Two years after the plan to expand the canal had been announced – which occurred in late 2002 and was followed in early 2003 by the Discovery Channel program on the subject – I presented to the engineers of the Panama Canal Authority (known as the ACP) a mechanical device for lifting ships. When I concluded my presentation, I was informed that I had arrived four (4) years “too late.” That is to say, the decision on how the canal would be expanded was taken shortly after the U.S. fully relinquished control of the canal to the people of Panama.

One has to wonder during what space of time the process of identifying, configuring, assessing and comparing possible lock options was undertaken that led to choosing those with side-tanks?

During the years that Panama shared canal management with the United States no such studies were performed. If some cases were actually evaluated but not publicized, when was that and where are the details of those assessments?
Those presented in the project's Master Plan as the “alternatives” evaluated are absurd.
Astoundingly, the Master Plan doesn't even list the challenges and requirements on which to base the design of the chosen locks, or of any other options. Without that data, “designing” anything isn't possible; much less preparing comparative studies.
There is no evidence of any definitive studies actually having been made.

Misleading the Public

Those attending public forums held before the referendum were repeatedly reassured that – once the expansion was approved and funding became available – project details would be more fully evaluated and that their concerns would be satisfactorily resolved before proceeding. But, those assurances vanished into oblivion once the go-ahead vote was obtained.

These facts are not in keeping with the project's claimed high levels of “transparency”. 

From the technical point of view it was very difficult to grasp why things were following such a seemingly illogical path. However, the reason became quite clear when considering that financial manipulations were likely afoot to get development bank loans as soon as possible.

Based on the observable, it appears that just one option – one that banks would accept as valid – was “prepared”. It seems what only mattered was to meet initial loan application requirements and to submit those without delay. That goal was achieved using the side-tank locks.

From that point forward all has seemingly been a “media show”, staged to direct attention away from project details containing discrepancies that contradicted statements made to the banks, thereby avoiding discoveries that would jeopardize receiving the desired funds promptly. Concluded from that is that this is why discussions of critical technical points were evaded during the public forums. 

Out of the propaganda fog, the plan that has emerged appears to be based on falsehoods.

Perpetuating the Deception

In order to distribute contracts as soon as possible it was most important that nothing delay the receipt of the loans from the development banks. The disclosure of any issues at odds with “use” requirements tied to such development loans would have called for actual assessments to be performed, which would have caused the loans to be delayed or even canceled.

What is disturbing is that – while the moderators of forums held across Panama freely dodged discussing key technical issues, going so far as to ridicule people that asked serious and pointed questions – other entities, such as international banks, apparently accepted all assurances of clear sailing with little or no questioning.

The way it looks, to expose what is convenient – and not what is not – is how transparency is being applied. That this attitude is not confined to only Panama, the “WikiLeaks” made quite clear.

From the announcement of this project to this day – and true in Panama, as well as in most of the “developed” world where there are projects underway that depend on this one being “successful” – there has been no coverage in major national or local news media critical of the present canal expansion project or presenting other views or considerations. Even recent failures around Panama of infrastructure – built by companies tasked with important aspects of the expansion – have failed to elicit even mild reactions. That all suggests that major interests are at stake everywhere.

That a public works project – and in particular one as large as the Panama Canal, and of such importance to the world – should proceed to construction without having ever held any truly open and frank discussions or debates, at least with respect to its most critical element, is thoroughly unacceptable.

Never before on this planet has a project of this magnitude come into being with the “perfect” solution already identified, nor is this the first to do it despite what its promoters wish to claim.

Locks with side-tanks as applied in this project are highly inefficient and very harmful. Nonetheless, the project is proceeding as is and without hindrance – in full denial that much more appropriate lock arrangements do exist – presumably due to a plethora of third-party interests.

A More Profitable Expansion

Present-day discussions regarding this expansion continue to principally focus on financing and profitability, as they've done since 'Day One', but never has it been brought to light that – for an equivalent investment – expected revenues could be substantially greater with other locks. Beyond repeatedly declaring that the chosen locks were the only possible and most appropriate for the project, in what can only be characterized as pure propaganda, technical arguments to validate that assertion were never presented nor discussed, nor were the superior economic benefits attributed to them ever substantiated.

Developing locks that reduce water-use most effectively has – for decades – been considered the key to a successful expansion of the Panama Canal. Yet, this expansion's promoters have offered no proof of ever having truly performed the assessment studies necessary to identify the most effective locks.

There are four techniques that have been around since before the previous century for reducing the volume of water locks expend to raise and lower ships. But, personal experiences with the project have led me to conclude, that those putting the project together either did not know of all of these techniques or, for some irrational or obscure reason, chose to ignore them.

The locks selected for this Panama Canal expansion contain only two of the four water-saving techniques. The canal's original locks contain three.

Independent studies have identified alternative lock arrangements of comparable cost that use other combinations of those techniques more effectively. With the most effective combination, the number of daily transits could be increased by at least two-thirds, with each transit using less than two-thirds of the water the planned locks will use.

Promoters claim that the planned locks will use 40% of the water a “normal” lock would expend when operated like those of today's canal. But, in reality – given that they have only one lane – they will use closer to 45%, because the claimed 40% does not include the water expended to periodically reverse traffic.

In contrast, the simplest of the better alternatives would reduce water use to 37% of “normal”. 

This simplest lock alternative would consist of four enlarged copies of the canal's present-day Pedro Miguel Locks (a one-step, two-lane lock unit), but with each copy including an uncomplicated culvert layout change. Designers had originally considered using that layout over a century ago, but with saving water not an issue in their day, and since using it would have cost more, it wasn't. Now, it would be worth it.

Two of those enlarged and modified units, with a short channel segment – comparable to today's Miraflores Lake – between them, would be used at each end of the canal in this simplest two-step alternative.

About the same volume of concrete, needed to build the single-lane locks with recycling tanks now planned, would be needed to build this simpler two-lane alternative that has no recycling tanks. Additionally, this option would require less maintenance by virtue of having fewer parts. Plus, it would avoid the planned one-lane system's potential for a complete interruption of service.

An even more efficient option would be one similar to the Pedro-Miguel type just described, but this version would have two recycling tanks added between each of its unit's chambers. About 20% more concrete would be required to build this layout, but it would use only 25% of the water that “normally” operated locks would use as compared to the 40+% that the current selection will use. This layout uses tanks much more effectively than the planned design.

Due to the sharp reduction in water expended per transit by this most efficient lock option, which is less than two-thirds of what the planned locks will expend, 20 ships a day could be transited with the same water that will be used to transit 12. Plus, up to 22 ships could be transited whenever extra water happened to be available.

In short, with little additional investment at least 160% of the revenue now expected could be realized.

More Capacity, Better Future

Considering all the lock capabilities that exist, there's no doubt that the current expansion's return-on-investment can be improved while reducing its complexity. Known risks and unacceptable damages can be avoided by applying proven technology much more effectively. Without adding much to the cost now, better performance can be achieved and maintenance needs reduced. However, if not addressed now, making changes afterward to attain equivalent capabilities will be impossible or prohibitively expensive. 

The current plan makes no sense from the perspective of rational long-term goals, which are what the project should be targeting. What is the benefit of, or who is benefited by, adding a catastrophic risk to the Panama Canal and irreparably damaging the environment?

More modern lock arrangements would offer yet more advantages. Occupying less space, coupled with greater efficiency, they make future expansions more feasible. A risky dam over active fault lines – that could cause the loss of Gatun Lake – would be unnecessary. Using better arrangements would also result in markedly less saltwater intruding into the lake. As a bonus, they include an effective method to mitigate salt intrusions over the long haul, made possible by the system's better integration of parts and operations.

The alternatives presented above would be compatible with loan requirements, with no need to contemplate deception. They would also improve possibilities for future growth.

With so many advantages within reach one must question the benefit to the canal and to shipping to spend so much money – resulting in higher toll charges – to add one lane of locks that will yield only two-thirds of the transit service that would be offered by an expansion that uses the best locks available. Throw in the avoidable negative impacts that the current plan will inflict on Panama's population, which will further add to the project's true cost, and one must ask how is Panama benefiting from all this?

Again, what is the logic of this project on its present course?

Water Availability

It is now being heard that in the areas west of the canal's Trinidad River Basin – waters of which have always been considered the canal's reserve for when “all else fails” – residents are being told to begin preparing to abandon their homesteads to make way for the area's incorporation into the canal's watershed.

This is not acceptable.

Prior to the referendum it was declared that the canal's watershed would not have to be expanded for this project. As the present-day canal basin receives more than enough rainfall to supply this expansion, the planned locks were modified – by adding the third side-tank to each chamber, which reduced their water-use to the “40%” noted earlier – and the range over which Gatun Lake's level fluctuates was increased so as to augment the volume of water that is “usable” in lock operations.

But, the validity of this rather complex plan was never substantiated, nor was its cost ever estimated.

Nonetheless, on the basis of this “revised” plan – and with the approval of a law “against new reservoirs” – it was nationally declared that the concerns of those residing in the area in question had been addressed, and the process moved on to the casting of the votes that “approved” the project.

Now, with vote in pocket, it would seem that the project intends to proceed with expanding the canal's watershed, thus sealing the deception.

These developments suggest that there was never any intention of making adjustments within the boundaries of the present-day canal watershed to make up for the projected operating water shortfall.

In the same way that a proper lock selection study was seemingly by-passed, reviewing and evaluating ways to augment current watershed usable water volumes also appear to have been skipped. Both efforts must be done before any responsible decision on enhancing the watershed can be taken.

A Fraudulent Plebiscite

What Panama's people were asked to decide was whether or not they wanted the canal expanded. They weren't asked anything else. However, it appears that – in a referendum where very few citizens showed up to decide the fate of their most important asset – the “yes” they gave to kick off the project has seemingly been construed as a signing-over of that asset to the project's promoters. 

The people have, in essence, lost all rights to intercede in affairs of the project, regardless of how it impacts them and how much they object. As they say in Panama, “va como va porque va”, meaning “it's going as is, because it's decided”. Effectively, there are no independent review mechanisms in place to protect the best interests of the asset's supposed owners. The foxes are in charge of the hen house.

The plebiscite I denounced as undemocratic, because in a true democracy the government cannot officially promote one side of an issue that requires a popular decision as was done in Panama. Political parties can take sides, but the government must remain neutral.

I also denounced the public forums that preceded the plebiscite for having been partial, alleging they were manipulated so as to evade disclosing issues that could have turned the vote.

Moreover, prior to the referendum all information relevant to the important decision soon to be made was not freely accessible. One had to file a request for additional information and explain why it was required. This not only discouraged research of the project's details by third parties, it reduced the likelihood that those who pressed on would discover all the details.

As the process was structured, critical details could be left out of the response to a researcher's request. As a researcher had no way of knowing in advance precisely what to specify in a request to ensure receipt of potentially contentious details, it was virtually impossible to receive those details.

The process leading to the referendum was not transparent, and nothing has changed since then.

Improvement Still Possible, Without Fraud

Based on the foregoing, I reject outright the notion that it's “too late” to roll back the locks that were chosen for this expansion of the Panama Canal. Most disgusting is the manipulative attempt afoot to make the project's on-time completion a matter of national pride in order to gain the public's backing of a second rate, ineffective and harmful plan.

Irresponsibility is never acceptable and should not be rewarded.

To say it is no longer feasible to make changes because that time “has passed” is nonsense.

Considering the time value of money, if the value of the time it would take to reconsider the present plan were measured against not only the value of the increase in transport services that could be attained with another plan, but also against the reduction of other work along the way, there is no doubt that better locks would make this expansion much more profitable.

Be it known that there is a second expansion already planned – which is something that was not disclosed to the Panamanian people, but is not a secret overseas. Being a clone of the first, that second expansion will be equally ineffective and damaging.

The same cost-reducing and service-increasing improvements that would benefit the current expansion would also benefit any future expansion. What is more, by changing the chosen locks now to ones that perform better, the projected subsequent expansion could be postponed indefinitely.

However, if the project proceeds as planned, the canal’s future growth will be cut short severely, and that will be irreversible. Quite frankly, it would be preferable to pay the contractors to build nothing than to bring to fruition what is presently planned.

Only the project's choice of locks is being argued in this document. The casting of the concrete that will form them has not begun. None of the digging of new navigation channels would be lost, nor would the work already done to enlarge existing ones go to waste, by changing the choice of locks.

In addition to the presented arguments against the chosen locks, I denounced the planned incorporation of territories to the west of the canal's Atlantic entrance because the need for more water is integrally linked to the choice of locks and because a proper assessment of the many enhancements that could be made to the existing watershed to increase its yield has not been done. These shortcomings must be attended before launching any watershed expansion.


It would seem that the current Panama Canal expansion plan has everything to do with maximizing construction efforts, be that by way of excavating channels and casting locks, or by way of enlarging the watershed. Getting after all of it as quickly as possible is clearly of paramount importance to someone.

Maximizing the potential of the canal appears irrelevant to the plan. Likewise, damages to third-parties and the environment are not relevant. That work advances, and that money flows without delays, seems to be all that matters.

The rush to distribute lucrative contracts, along with the rush to take advantage of all of the country's other resources at one go – something that would never be done by truly first-world countries with responsible leaders – creates the strong impression that what motivates those who are actually running Panama is to become multimillionaires at the public's expense.

We must put a stop to all these scams. If this course is maintained, there will be little left of the jewel that was Panama in the last century. All the flora and fauna that Panama is famous for is about to be wiped out, along with most of its rural and indigenous cultures, just to feed the greed of a few powerful men.

Expanding the Panama Canal is worth doing. We have the knowledge and the technology to do it right.

There is no argument with which to justify advancing an inefficient expansion of the Panama Canal that will forever expose it to the danger of being flushed to sea – along with everything on its banks – because of a dam being irresponsibly built atop active faults. Furthermore, to permanently put this canal's maximum potential permanently out-of-reach, and to risk eradicating marine species due to unjustifiably pushing ahead a bad choice of locks that will salt-up Gatun Lake, would be to disregard – with total contempt – more than a century of responsible studies and evaluations.