For nearly 200 years, MWH has stood behind one key principle: to deliver the highest level of client service. This is especially true when you are the lead designer on the crown jewel of global engineering projects. One of the few man-made objects visible from space, the 100-year-old, 50-mile-long Panama Canal’s multibillion-dollar makeover is eagerly awaited by the world’s shipping titans. It will enable this essential waterway to handle what is expected to be a surge in shipping traffic. Once completed, it will provide efficient navigation, transform global trade and boost local economies for decades to come.
When new design technologies were needed to create the world’s largest locks complex and conserve water during transit of the more than 15,000 vessels expected to navigate the expanded Central American shortcut each year, officials turned to MWH. Leading a multinational team that included members from the U.S., Argentina, Netherlands, Italy, India and Panama, we have worked for more than seven years across 13 time zones to exceed every goal, overcome every challenge and deliver the most sophisticated lock system and largest water saving basins in the world.
Nothing less than a unique solution would do for this engineering marvel that has seen more than a million ships pass between oceans since it opened a century ago. The Canal’s new, larger lock system, operating together with the water saving basins, will allow reuse of 60 percent of the water for each lockage, or eight percent less water than needed for the existing smaller locks. This amounts to recycling 72 million gallons (272 million liters) of fresh water from Panama’s Lake Gatun – the equivalent of 110 Olympic-size swimming pools – each time a ship transits the Canal.
Many coastal cities along the Eastern seaboard have already begun increasing and upgrading their port infrastructures in preparation. Once the new Post-Panamax locks are operational, and the work of expanding the waterway is completed, Canal capacity will double. The world’s ocean-going container ships — many nearly as wide as the new locks and carrying up to 13,000 TEUs* each — will be able to make safe passage. And though ship traffic is expected to increase significantly, the Post-Panamax ships navigating the locks will use less fuel, which will promote environmental protection, public health and sustainable development.
Ultimately, the metamorphosis of this iconic artery of global trade will enable Panama to better manage its valuable water resources, provide new growth and development opportunities for its 3.8 million citizens and transform the way countries trade with one another.
* Twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs)
Photos courtesy of Panama Canal Authority.