Frequently Asked Questions

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What is a watershed?

A watershed is a land area where rainfall and ground water drains into a common body of water, which may be a river, lake, or the ocean.  The boundaries of a watershed are set naturally by divides or ridges at the highest elevations, from which the water flows into a river or lake.

What is watershed management?

Watershed management is the an iterative, integrated process applied by humans to utilize and protect the natural resources of a watershed, for the purpose of obtaining an optimum and sustainable production of water.

The concept of an integrated watershed management requires a carefully coordinated partnership in the utilization of water, land, and natural resources, to achieve the best equitable and sustainable social and economic benefits for the inhabitants of the watershed.

It also involves the organization of the land and the integrated management of natural resources with a vision for sustainable development over the long term.

The basis of watershed management is the sound utilization by humans of the natural resources available in the watershed, along with the appropriate, all-encompassing efforts to educate the public, and the establishment of mechanisms for coordination between agencies and communities.

What are the objectives of watershed management?
  • The improvement of socioeconomic conditions of the users of water and natural resources..
  • The conservation of natural resources according to the country’s established policies and strategies.
  • A greater productivity of natural resources, and their maintenance, to meet the country’s requirements.
  • The restoration of areas that have degraded.
  • The enforcement of a hydrologic regime.
  • To seek a technical complementation by public and private organizations linked to watershed management.

What are the benefits of managing watersheds?
  • The supply of water for human consumption.
  • The availability of enough water volume for other uses (irrigation, transportation, etc.)
  • The availability of natural recreation and research areas.
  • The conservation of natural resources and biological diversity.
  • The conservation and protection of soils against erosion.
  • The protection of water sources against pollution and sedimentation.

What is the vision of ACP with regard to the watershed?

To become a world leader on sustainable development by conserving the Canal Watershed.

What is the mission of ACP with regard to the watershed?

To administer and conserve Canal water resources, participate actively in the protection of the environment and the sustainable development of the Canal Watershed.

What is the chronology of the creation of the watershed?

Actually, a watershed is not “created”; it is a geographically distinct natural land area.  The description below is the chronology of the actions that have been taken to legally define the Panama Canal Watershed boundary coordinates and of other legal measures for its establishment.

December 1993: In preparation for the orderly transfer of the Canal to the Republic of Panama in 1999, the Panama Legislative Assembly passed, by a majority vote, the first legislation on the Canal, a new Constitutional Title.  This created the legal framework that would be subsequently developed with laws and regulations to allow the continued efficient operation of the Panama Canal under a Panamanian administration.

May 1995: A newly inaugurated Panama Legislative Assembly ratified, by a majority vote, the Constitutional Title passed by the previous Assembly.  This Title establishes, in its Article 310, that the Panama Canal Authority is responsible for the administration, maintenance, use, and conservation of the water resources in the area known as the Panama Canal Watershed.  Article 13, 5 of the new Title also establishes that the Board of Directors of the Panama Canal Authority has the power and duty to propose the boundaries of the Panama Canal Watershed, for the approval of the Panama Cabinet Council and the Panama Legislative Assembly. In its Article 317, the Constitutional Title also establishes that the Panama Canal Authority will regulate the matters covered by the Title.

June 11, 1997: After a wide consultation with the country’s civilian and political circles, Organic Law 19 on the Panama Canal Authority was passed whereby the Panama Canal Authority is established and organized, in compliance with the provisions of Article 317 of the Political Constitution of the Republic of Panama.  This law establishes the organization and operation of the Panama Canal Authority with the objective of “making the Canal a safe and profitable enterprise, a pillar in the human, social, and economic development of the country”.

With this preamble, Law 19 assigns to the Panama Canal Authority the responsibility of operating, managing, using, and conserving the water resources of the Panama Canal Watershed, and requires that it administer the water resources in such a manner as to ensure a water supply for the communities adjacent to the Canal (Panama, San Miguelito, Colon, Arraijan and La Chorrera).  Article 18, 6, also assigns to the Board of Directors of the Panama Canal Authority the responsibility of proposing the boundaries of the Canal Watershed for approval by the Panama Cabinet Council and the Legislative Branch.

June 1999: In compliance with the Constitution and Law 19 – and in preparation for the imminent transfer of the Canal and the new responsibility of conserving and managing the water the Canal organization would have thereafter– the Board of Directors of the Panama Canal Authority proposed the boundaries of the Canal Watershed for approval by the Panama Cabinet Council and Legislative Assembly.

August 18, 1999: After three debates, the Panama Legislative Branch, by majority vote, passed Law 44, which reflects the sole purpose of defining the boundaries of the Panama Canal Watershed.  Such boundaries, as defined by this law, added some 212,000 hectares westward from what was traditionally known as the Canal Watershed, and named it the Western Region of the Watershed.  Law 44 thereby established that the Watershed has a surface of 552,761 hectares encompassing 11 districts and 48 corregimientos in the provinces of Panama, Colon and Cocle.

June 21, 2006: The Official Gazette publishes Law No. 20, whose Article 21 reads:  “Law 44 of 1999, whereby the boundaries of the Panama Canal Watershed are approved, is hereby revoked.”

What are the boundaries of the Panama Canal Watershed?

The current boundaries of the Panama Canal Watershed are geographically defined by the highest elevations of the hills and mountains that flow into Gatun Lake.  These natural boundaries are those of the watershed of the Chagres River, which were dammed in 1914 by Gatun Dam during the construction of the Canal.  For the purposes of allowing the Panama Canal Authority to manage and administer, the Miraflores Lake sub-basin has been included in the Panama Canal Watershed.

How many regions are there in the Panama Canal Watershed?

The Canal Watershed is divided in three hydrographic regions, the smallest being the Miraflores Lake sub-basin, located on the southern end of the Watershed, into which the shortest rivers drain, such as the Cocoli, Grande, Camaron and Cardenas rivers. The Alahuela (Madden) Lake sub-basin region is located on the eastern side of the Canal Watershed, into which flow the Boqueron and Pequeni rivers, as well as the waters from the uplands of the Chagares River and those of other minor streams such as La Puente, Salamanca and Las Cascadas. The main water region is that of Gatun Lake, which occupies the central and western parts of the Watershed. Rivers Gatún, Ciri Grande, Trinidad, the middle course of the Chagres and other minor rivers such as Caño Quebrado, Los Hules, Pescado, Paja, Baila Monos, Frijoles, Agua Salud and Mandinga drain into Gatun Lake.

To what agency was the responsibility for the management and conservation of the Panama Canal Watershed assigned?

The Political Constitution of the Republic of Panama and the Organic Law of the Panama Canal Authority have assigned the responsibility for the management, maintenance, use, and conservation of the water resources of the Panama Canal Watershed to the Panama Canal Authority, due to the importance of water for the operation of the waterway. The Panama Canal Authority is also required by law to administer the water resources to ensure enough water supply for the population in the adjacent cities of Panama, Colon, La Chorrera, and Arraijan.

Is there a high level committee to coordinate the efforts by the Panama Government to protect the Watershed?

The Comisión Interinstitucional de la Cuenca Hidrográfica del Canal (CICH) (Panama Canal Watershed Interagency Committee) has been established to coordinate the work of Panama Government agencies and of the Panama Canal Authority to conserve the region’s natural resources.

What are the agencies involved in the CICH committee?
  • The Panama Canal Authority (ACP)
  • The Panama Ministry of Government and Justice (Ministerio de Gobierno y Justicia - MINGOB)
  • The Panama Ministry of Housing (Ministerio de Vivienda - MIVI)
  • The Ministry of Agricultural Development (Ministerio de Desarrollo Agropecuario - MIDA)
  • The Panama National Environmental Protection Authority (Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente - ANAM)
  • The Panama Ministry of Economy and Finance (Ministerio de Economía y Finanzas - MEF)
  • Two non governmental organizations:
    • Caritas Arquidiocesana, and
    • Fundación NATURA.
What are the objectives of CICH?
  • Obtain resources and promote initiatives for financing through national and international sources.
  • Promote the sustainable development of the Panama Canal Watershed.

What are the sustainable development goals of the Panama Canal Watershed?
  • Promote an active participation by the community and improve interagency coordination mechanisms
  • Conserve the quantity and quality of Panama Canal Watershed resources in order to provide a water supply for the population, human activities, and Canal operations
  • Recover, protect, and conserve biodiversity, and natural and cultural resources
  • Consolidate and carry out plans, programs, projects and activities within the Panama Canal Watershed in a coordinated manner, to improve the quality of life of the inhabitants of the Watershed areas

Are studies being conducted in the Panama Canal Watershed at this time?

Studies are being conducted at the present time to determine the value of the water in the Panama Canal Watershed, by evaluating its potential in view of the future demands for drinking water for the population and for the operation of the waterway. These studies will also help define the best way to achieve a development that may result in real and tangible benefits for all the inhabitants of the Watershed. No decision will be made without giving prior consideration to the impact the various alternatives may have on Watershed residents.

What type of dissemination has been given to Panama Canal Watershed issues?

Between the years 2000 and 2005, the Panama Canal Authority held a series of meetings, round table discussions, and workshops with approximately 850 residents and local authorities of the Watershed and its surrounding areas.

Also, 121 meetings were held throughout the country to provide information various sectors, such as the civilian population, the Catholic Church, political parties, business groups, and the Panama Government.

Some of the means used to disseminate information about the Panama Canal Watershed are: El Faro, a biweekly magazine published by the Panama Canal Authority in the local newspapers; the Panama Canal Authority website (www.pancanal.com); the Comisión Interinstitucional de la Cuenca Hidrográfica del Canal de Panamá – CICH website (wwww.cich.org), and strategically located information booth throughout the country.

Is the Panama Canal Watershed being excessively deforested?

The Panama Canal Authority and the Panama National Environmental Protection Authority (Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente - ANAM) are conducting a forest cover surveillance program in the Panama Canal Watershed. This study shows very low deforestation rates inside the Watershed in the last 5 years, with an average loss of 30 to 40 hectares per year. Such deforestation occurs mainly in fragmented secondary growth, stubble, and underbrush areas for which ANAM grants permits for subsistence farming. At this time, as a result of the Panama Canal Authority reforestation programs and the work of other Government agencies, private companies, and conservation groups, in addition to the natural regeneration process, it can be said that the vegetation cover in the Watershed is keeping a dynamic balance. If deforestation rates are maintained or fall, and the reforestation programs are continued, the trend will be toward a slow recovery of the forest.

Are the rivers in the Watershed polluted?

The results of the surveillance and quality control follow up programs which the Panama Canal Authority conducts in the Watershed show that the water quality at the hydrology stations is between good and excellent, and qualifies for various uses. The parameters that have been analyzed were within acceptable limits with regard to their respective guideline values, showing a healthy condition of the water system, as well as of its capacity for self-purification.