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A New Path Between the Seas?
June 10, 2013 3:00 PM   Subscribe

Nicaragua has awarded a Chinese company a 100-year concession to build an alternative to the Panama Canal. With uncertain costs and impact to the environment, the canal is expected to pass through Lake Nicaragua, and will accomodate ships of 250,000 metric tons- twice the size the Panama Canal will accomodate even after upgrades. This is not the first time a canal through Nicaragua has been attempted.

Canals in Central America were proposed as far back as the mid-1500's, when Emperor Charles V of Spain sought to ease the transport of gold from Peru back to Europe.

In the 1840's, need for easier access to California (and its gold) reawakened interest in a canal, and in 1849, American industrialist Cornelius Vanderbilt signed an agreement with Nicaragua to build both a canal and a temporary overland route. Although the canal was never built, it engendered a massive diplomatic crisis with the world's superpower Britain, whose interests were threatened by the prospect of an American-run canal. Conflict was resolved with the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty, which among other things guaranteed the neutrality of any future canal.

By 1902, French efforts to build a canal through Panama were failing and threatening to ruin the country financially. Interests in the United States, meanwhile, were again moving towards a Nicaraguan canal and had passed a bill supporting said canal in the House of Representatives. In a stroke of luck, lobbyists for the French, desperate for an American bailout, were able to capitalize on a recent deadly Caribbean volcano eruption coupled with an ill-timed Nicaraguan stamp depicting an errupting volcano. Concerned in part by the threat of Nicaraguan volcanos, the United States moved instead to take over the French canal works in Panama.

The current Chinese proposals promise to bring more than 40,000 jobs to one of the poorest countries in Latin America, but also threaten to once again ignite conflicts between old and new superpowers battling for influence in the Americas.
posted by Esteemed Offendi (72 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yeah, well, even if they build it, and even if it's bigger, they still can't match us in the palindrome department: A man, a plan, a canal...Panama!
posted by KillaSeal at 3:06 PM on June 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


A Ugaracin, a plan, a canal, panicaragua.
posted by biffa at 3:07 PM on June 10, 2013 [37 favorites]


Is this strictly a construction opportunity for China, or are they trying to get better access to consumer markets in the Atlantic?
posted by crapmatic at 3:08 PM on June 10, 2013


This is just an excuse to use Lake Titicaca in casual conversation.
posted by dr_dank at 3:09 PM on June 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


A lake nowhere near the area in question?
posted by kmz at 3:13 PM on June 10, 2013 [14 favorites]


Is this strictly a construction opportunity for China, or are they trying to get better access to consumer markets in the Atlantic?
Si.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:13 PM on June 10, 2013


As I understand it, crapmatic, it is both China seeking new routes and redundancies to get the materials they produce to market, and also China looking to increase access to raw materials and food. See also: their funding of roads in Brazil and widening the Panama canal.

A friend told me today that US pork production is 40% more efficient than Chinese production - purchasing Smithfield isn't just a bid to get access to markets, but to learn about the US culture of production and how the Chinese can replicate it. 10% of Chinese rice isn't fit for consumption according to Chinese standards, another 30% of it wouldn't pass US inspection. China has a food problem similar to its energy problem. The more their middle class booms, the more resources they need.
posted by incessant at 3:13 PM on June 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


I always wonder about starting large construction projects that are certain to result in a certain number of deaths by the time their completed. The head engineer knows that several people are going to die. Then I get in my car and drive out onto the highway and completely forget about it.
posted by mecran01 at 3:13 PM on June 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


Is this strictly a construction opportunity for China, or are they trying to get better access to consumer markets in the Atlantic?

"The name of the company and other details have yet to be released". Anyone care to wager that the unknown company is heavily tied to CCP leadership and/or the PLA?

Meanwhile, in not-unrelated news, Nicaragua has been expanding its territorial waters in the Caribbean thanks to an International Court of Justice ruling in its favor over Colombia.
posted by Doktor Zed at 3:14 PM on June 10, 2013


Should make things easier for the Bull Sharks who like to visit Lake Nicaragua.
posted by nathancaswell at 3:18 PM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, well, even if they build it, and even if it's bigger, they still can't match us in the palindrome department: A man, a plan, a canal...Panama!

Different country, different word game: Nicaragua, a cur again
posted by Copronymus at 3:20 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Of course such a canal could be an ecological disaster if it allows invasive species to travel between the oceans. Fortunately we can count on China to protect the environment.
posted by LarryC at 3:21 PM on June 10, 2013 [17 favorites]


A Ugaracin, a plan, a canal, panicaragua.

Au, Ga, racin' Alan H., anal... Ah! Nicaragua!

The meaning of this palindrome, with its reference to gold, gallium, and... other things, is thought to refer to a particularly memorable trip to Central America, but remains maddeningly unexplained, and, honestly, requires far too much punctuation.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:26 PM on June 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


Concerned in part by the threat of Nicaraguan volcanos, the United States moved instead to take over the French canal works in Panama.

The more things change, right?
posted by feloniousmonk at 3:28 PM on June 10, 2013


A couple of years ago there was talk of China financing a railway across Colombia linking Buenaventura on the Pacific coast and Cartagena on the Caribbean. With this news, I wonder if that is still on the table.
posted by jontyjago at 3:29 PM on June 10, 2013


What happened to the plan to build a "dry canal" (railroad with ports on either end)? That always seemed more sensible to me.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:30 PM on June 10, 2013


What happened to the plan to build a "dry canal" (railroad with ports on either end)? That always seemed more sensible to me.

For container shipping maybe, but I'm not sure about tankers and bulk cargo.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:33 PM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Here's my $0.02 on the palindrome thing, perhaps speaking to the actual construction phase:

Topsoil open. Old. Am damp. Malaria. Air! A lamp! Mad! Mad! Lone polio spot.

Good god, I can't believe I sat here and made up my first palindrome.
posted by crapmatic at 3:54 PM on June 10, 2013 [40 favorites]


A lake nowhere near the area in question?

What, you mean Lake Titicaca?
posted by jimmythefish at 4:10 PM on June 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


Fortunately we can count on China to protect the environment.

I don't think that's quite fair. There's an awful lot of rocket fuel in the US soil from when the US didn't protect the environment. There's a lot of superfund sites around the country. Lots of countries have their fair share of environmental disasters and negative impact. Fracking is going to be hell to pay in the US and UK, if the water table concerns come true. Deep Water Horizon was a British company in American waters.

My point is not to say that China has a spotless environmental record, but Three Gorges is not the only dam in the world that really negatively impacted the environment. Rather than be snarky about Chinese environmental standards, get your own house in order, and worry about everyone else after that.

It's a lot easier to worry about a godawful future environmental disaster in another part of the world than it is to sort out your own impact today, right now. If you're worried about the environment, please do tell me what you have done today to protect it?
posted by nickrussell at 4:14 PM on June 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


1。协商让步。
2。挖运河。
3。?
4。利润!
posted by 1367 at 4:16 PM on June 10, 2013 [28 favorites]


Well, at least they aren't planning on doing it with nukes this time.... right?
posted by fifthrider at 4:30 PM on June 10, 2013


If you're worried about the environment, please do tell me what you have done today to protect it?

Let's see: In my personal life, I keep reducing my greenhouse emissions by conserving energy, taking transit and walking whenever possible, buying local, and driving a hybrid when I must drive. I live in a dense, established urban area rather than destroying more of the Georgia countryside with exurban sprawl. I don't buy shit I don't need. I donate money to local and international efforts at habitat conservation.

In my professional life, I study local urban streams to understand what we've done to them and how to manage them better, I educate future generations about biology, including a lot of time spent talking about climate change, and I participate in the international scientific community through the peer review process.

Am I therefore allowed to say that connecting Lake Nicaragua to the ocean in two directions and thereby converting it from a freshwater lake to a brackish mess would be a shockingly huge ecological disaster?
posted by hydropsyche at 4:36 PM on June 10, 2013 [29 favorites]


Of course such a canal could be an ecological disaster if it allows invasive species to travel between the oceans. Fortunately we can count on China to protect the environment.

How would this canal be any different in that regard than the existing Panama Canal? Don't most invasive species travel in the ballast of ships? What difference does it make if they go through a canal en route? Wouldn't this canal cut down on the energy required to move goods between Europe and Asia significantly?
posted by Dasein at 4:49 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Won't someone think of the deadly and ferocious freshwater Bull sharks?
posted by KokuRyu at 4:50 PM on June 10, 2013


converting it from a freshwater lake to a brackish mess

Are there ways to avoid this or is it an inevitable consequence of using locks?
posted by Dasein at 4:53 PM on June 10, 2013


I don't see how you keep salt and freshwater from mixing in a lock system. Mixing water from downstream to upstream and upstream to downstream is how locks work.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:54 PM on June 10, 2013


I meant to add: And in this case it would be coming from both directions. I'm pretty skeptical that this would not severely impact the lake. That was certainly my first thought when reading this.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:57 PM on June 10, 2013


Sounds like a good reason to just bypass the lake.
posted by Dasein at 5:00 PM on June 10, 2013


Oh, I see, there appears to be a volcano in the way. Nevermind.
posted by Dasein at 5:04 PM on June 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


As long as the lake is higher than the ocean, the the water flows from the lake to the ocean through the canal locks. See Gatun Lake on the Panama Canal.
posted by Long Way To Go at 5:08 PM on June 10, 2013


I don't see how you keep salt and freshwater from mixing in a lock system. Mixing water from downstream to upstream and upstream to downstream is how locks work.

What? Not the locks I know about. To move a boat from downstream to upstream, the boat moves into the locks, you shut the downstream gate, then you open the upstream valve and let water flow in. When the level is equal, you open the upstream gate, and the boat continues along. Going downstream, the boat comes in the upstream gate, then you open the downstream valve, allowing the water to flow out downstream, the lock level drops, and then you open the downstream gate. At no point do you pump water in from downstream in order to lift the basin level; the pressure from upstream does that.
posted by Mars Saxman at 5:11 PM on June 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


I always wonder about starting large construction projects that are certain to result in a certain number of deaths by the time their completed. The head engineer knows that several people are going to die. Then I get in my car and drive out onto the highway and completely forget about it.

A particularly deep underground subway station near me has a plaque memorializing a construction worker who died during its construction. Given the plaque's location at the top of a multi-story escalator, you can't help but think about the potential fall when you read it.*

* = IIRC, the construction worker died of a heart attack, but I can't seem to find info to back that up online at the moment. However, I did learn that someone was killed in 2005 by getting their sweatshirt caught in that escalator. Yikes.
posted by maryr at 5:16 PM on June 10, 2013


I don't see this working out well long term for any of the principals.

Terrible news for Panama for one, after a massive public investment to increase the size of the Canal. It's a huge part of the national economy.

But with the expected year round shipping routes in the far north becoming real due to global warming, both the Central America canals will suffer.

It's huge boost for Nicaragua with the construction and spinoff, but surely many of the good jobs will be done by foreigners. No idea who will do the piloting, maintenance and management of the Nicaragua canal, which is something the Panamanians take great pride in doing themselves.

And ultimately, Chinese goods will become less and less cheap as their economy develops and a middle class takes hold. So those who see this as a food security investment are probably on the money.
posted by absentian at 5:26 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


At no point do you pump water in from downstream in order to lift the basin level; the pressure from upstream does that.

I suspect there may not be enough water flowing into the lake to do this indefinitely. It would probably drain the lake in short order so they probably pump in sea water to raise the locks. But that's just a guess.
posted by GuyZero at 5:27 PM on June 10, 2013


> "I don't see how you keep salt and freshwater from mixing in a lock system."

Why couldn't they do it the same way Seattle does it?
posted by Jacqueline at 5:36 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


A particularly deep underground subway station near me has a plaque memorializing a construction worker who died during its construction. Given the plaque's location at the top of a multi-story escalator, you can't help but think about the potential fall when you read it.*

I cannot resist informing you that the longest escalator in the Western Hemisphere is in the DC Metro, at Wheaton. (But it isn't the deepest Metro station, which is Forest Glen.)
posted by hoyland at 5:50 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


But with the expected year round shipping routes in the far north becoming real due to global warming, both the Central America canals will suffer.
This wondered me too. The Northwest Passage is already open for some ships at some times of year. That window is only going to grow for bigger ships and longer stretches open. Considering that northern seaways from China to the eastern US and Europe are much shorter they're bound to be used.
posted by Jehan at 5:58 PM on June 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


longest escalator in the Western Hemisphere is in the DC Metro, at Wheaton.

Cool. Wikipedia can really assume its audience is brain-dead at times: The trip takes approximately 2 minutes and 45 seconds, though some commuters shorten the time by walking. Really? Some people...walk...on escalators? It's a good thing I have Wikipedia to tell me these things.
posted by Dasein at 6:00 PM on June 10, 2013


It would probably drain the lake in short order so they probably pump in sea water to raise the locks. But that's just a guess.

It would be a wrong guess. In Panama at least the lakes that fill the locks are refilled by the rainforest ecology. This is why Panama has a surprisingly advanced program for protecting their rainforests, as they power the canal. It's a wonderful place to visit for ecotourism as a result.
posted by localroger at 6:03 PM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


I cannot resist informing you that the longest escalator in the Western Hemisphere is in the DC Metro, at Wheaton.

I don't know if this is the particular station but when I visited DC and we made the trek to the National Zoo, the escalator from the subway terminal to the surface had a strong resemblance to a prototype space elevator. As it was off hours with no crowds it was actually more terrifying, and I made the effort to find the phone-booth sized elevator instead of braving it.
posted by localroger at 6:08 PM on June 10, 2013


Rather than be snarky about Chinese environmental standards, get your own house in order, and worry about everyone else after that.

Please breathe the air in L.A., and then in Beijing, and get back to me.

The good ol' U.S. of A. is far from a perfect steward of the planet, but attempt to equate its record with that of the Chinese oligarchy are...amusing.
posted by stevis23 at 6:15 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's strange to think that the completion of this canal would effectively create an island containing Costa Rica and most of Panama.
posted by grouse at 6:16 PM on June 10, 2013


an island containing Costa Rica and most of Panama.

Not really, except in a very artificial sense. All you'd have to do is open the Panama Canal locks to empty them and not refill, and you could walk right across. (Well you'd need some ladders.) The Panama Canal is hundreds of feet above sea level at its peak rainforest level.

Oh, and it is ultrafreaky to get in a minivan at the Pacific coast and ride for about an hour and reach the Atlantic coast.
posted by localroger at 6:25 PM on June 10, 2013


But with the expected year round shipping routes in the far north becoming real due to global warming, both the Central America canals will suffer.

Depends on where to where. For China to the US East Coast, none at all -- the Northwest Passage is a longer route -- and likely to have worse weather. Where the NWP wins is Europe to the US West Coast (and visa versa), Asia to Europe (it's a huge win compared to the Panama) and the Baltics/Russia to the US and Asia.

As to land canals -- the big issue is twofold. One is time -- you have to offload the ship and move all the cargo overland. The bigger one, though, is that you then need another ship on the other side to load all that cargo onto.

Making it bigger is one thing -- but you need a lot more space for locks, and a *lot* more water. The other question is time. If it's going to take longer to traverse this new canal rather than the Panama, then the Panama will get more business. If it's significantly cheaper, though, the Panama will lose business.

The new locks, while allow larger than Panamax -- the largest size ship that can transit. Currently, this means 950ft overall lengths, 106ft beam, and 39.5ft draft. With the new locks, the New Panamax will be 1200ftx160ftx49.95. In terms of TEU, this will allow ships of around 12000 TEU to transit, more than twice the current size (5000 TEU).

What won't be fixed is the current air draft issue. The Bridge Of The Americas has 63 meters of clearance over the canal, and there are already cruise ships that exceed this height.

In terms of US shipping on the East Coast, most over-Panamax ships can't use them anyway, as they're sized to the Panama Canal. As part of the expansion, these ports are dredging and widening channels -- Baltimore, NYC and Norfolk already have, and Miami is working on it.

If the ports that you're really trying to get to don't expand, building a wider canal isn't going to let you send bigger ships.
posted by eriko at 6:28 PM on June 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


these ports are dredging and widening channels

Interestingly one place where this won't be necessary is New Orleans. Wonder if we might get some of our port business back over that.
posted by localroger at 6:32 PM on June 10, 2013


Just for the hell of it I took a look at Shanghai - NYC in Google Earth.

Around Africa... 16635 miles
Via Suez Canal... 14068 miles
Through the Panama Canal... 12188 miles
Through Nicaragua... 11735 miles
Via Northwest Passage (NWT)... 9525 miles

The Northwest Passage shaves serious miles off any route to the US East Coast. Not surprising when you consider that it's 10,000 miles just to get from Shanghai to the Panama Canal itself. On the other hand I can't picture a Panamax tooling around in the Arctic Ocean.
posted by crapmatic at 6:49 PM on June 10, 2013


I was on Ometepe in lake Nicaragua last summer. It's one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. It only has paved roads on half of the island. It'll be kind of sad if it gets super developed because of the canal. That whole part of Nicaragua, from Granada to San Juan del Sur, is great, and I highly recommend a visit before all the new development comes in.
posted by empath at 6:50 PM on June 10, 2013


Also, Nicaragua didnt actually feel as poor as Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, I think largely because the money is more evenly distributed (a gini coefficient of 40 to the US's 45 and guatemala's 55). When the average income is a hundred dollars or so a month, it makes a huge difference.
posted by empath at 6:58 PM on June 10, 2013


I'll be surprised if this project comes to fruition.
posted by knoyers at 8:52 PM on June 10, 2013


Quite simply, this marks the end of the American Century. The US will no longer be easily able to prevent China (or anyone else) from moving commercial shipping from the Atlantic to the Pacific (or military shipping the other direction).
posted by orthogonality at 9:13 PM on June 10, 2013


Quite simply, this marks the end of the American Century.

Or it's baseless nationalistic bluster about a pie in the sky project, aimed at controlling the media narrative after the Obama & Xi Jinping meeting at Sunnylands.
posted by peeedro at 10:15 PM on June 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't know if this is the particular station but when I visited DC and we made the trek to the National Zoo, the escalator from the subway terminal to the surface had a strong resemblance to a prototype space elevator.

You were probably in the Woodley Park station, home of the third longest escalators in the system after Wheaton and Bethesda.

posted by peeedro at 10:47 PM on June 10, 2013


Or it's baseless nationalistic bluster about a pie in the sky project, aimed at controlling the media narrative after the Obama & Xi Jinping meeting at Sunnylands.

Zero people who keep close tabs on this stuff think this is bluster. This is China being China, using its vast wealth to carve out some insurance.

The American Century ended ... well, it ended in 2000, at the end of the, uh, century.

The thing to keep close tabs on now is whether or not the Chinese government will be able to control unrest within its own country. If its own populace remains content, then it'll be able to flex its muscle on the global stage. Look for those foreign policy moves to be chiefly dictated by the domestic requirement of keeping its citizenry from rebelling - providing food, energy, jobs. China is expansionist insofar as it needs to control global resources -- although isn't that always the case with every expansionist country? At least in China's case it won't try to bluster about superior culture or government or religion while it's subjugating you.
posted by incessant at 12:22 AM on June 11, 2013


What happened to the plan to build a "dry canal" (railroad with ports on either end)? That always seemed more sensible to me.

"New York attorney Donald Bosco read last week’s headlines from Nicaragua with a sense of mild despair and acute frustration.

After nearly two decades of struggling futilely to move the chains on his company’s plans to build a “dry canal” freight railroad across Nicaragua, Bosco watched in disbelief as the Ortega administration presented a legislative bill to give an unknown Chinese company exclusive rights to a similar project.

“I’m kind of shocked by this,” the president of the Nicaragua Interoceanic Canal Company (CINN) told The Nicaragua Dispatch in a phone interview from his law office in Staten Island, New York.

Bosco says he hopes the Sandinista government and its new Chinese business partner still intend to allow his company to develop its dry canal within the framework of the Great Canal megaproject. But if the Sandinista government tries to give his company the boot for a Chinese substitute, Nicaragua could face an international lawsuit, Bosco warns."
posted by iviken at 1:20 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


That escalator in Wheaton is a must-visit if you find yourself on the metro. Kind of surreal.

Also a bit more of a derail but I recall when I was young and living in (the suburbs of) DC there was an elevator on the Mall that had steps made of wood and truly looked like it could have torn my foot off. Considering all the work they are doing on the metro now I'm sure it's been replaced.

I have always been a fan of the railroad. Intermodal transport has been around for well over 50 years now. Ship-to-rail-to-ship really is an efficient and (relatively) sound, environmentally, way to move stuff. Yes that doesn't include stuff that doesn't fit into a container, most of which that is shipped would be oil, but I think we should leave that out when planning for our future.
posted by chemoboy at 2:27 AM on June 11, 2013


One minor quibble with the OP - these aren't metric ton measurements, they are Dead Weight Tonne measurements, which the weight of the ship itself plus its cargo.

The real issues here are the PRCs access to coal and ability to send post-Panamax box ships to the USEC. Also, the Panama Canal Authority has managed to piss everyone in the world off with their new and insane pricing schemes.

Also: US-influence, as per above.
posted by digitalprimate at 4:02 AM on June 11, 2013


Quite simply, this marks the end of the American Century.
Despite the overly political argument to the contrary... I think this statement is accurate. For as long as we've had an impact in the non-US-Americas it's been a negative impact. Put simply, it's advantageous to have a mote around the castle. And as long as Latin America is poor and impoverished we have nothing to fear from them, either militarily or economically.

Now for millions of "Americans" (you know, the ones who don't live in the US) the free market of international commerce is becoming available everywhere, not just in Europe and Asia and the northern two thirds of North America.

As mentioned before both the US and Western Europe has squandered some immeasurable beauty of it's own in the quest for thriving industrial and/or commercial markets. To be honest, it's only fair that the rest of the Americas now have the ability to, you know, pull themselves up by the bootstraps and make a better place for themselves and their families.

And more power to them if they can do it without war.
posted by Blue_Villain at 4:58 AM on June 11, 2013


Of course such a canal could be an ecological disaster if it allows invasive species to travel between the oceans.

Quite simply, this marks the end of the American Century.

The thing about conventional-wisdom predictions like this is that they're so often unfulfilled. There were a lot of people in 1913 making predictions about which empires were rising and which empires falling, but even the most optimistic of Chinese nationalists weren't predicting that China would achieve its present status by 2013. It was also a mainstream view in 1913 that a major and prolonged war was impossible in that modern and enlightened age.

One lesson to be learned from history is that anything can happen in the future.

That's why the future is laughing at us.
posted by snottydick at 7:21 AM on June 11, 2013


That's why the future is laughing at us.

To the extent that giant mutated cockroaches can laugh. In actuality, it's just the sound our mandibles make when we generate acidic saliva, and is not tied to any specific emotion.
posted by Behemoth at 7:42 AM on June 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


Doktor Zed:
"The name of the company and other details have yet to be released". Anyone care to wager that the unknown company is heavily tied to CCP leadership and/or the PLA?
Well, since it's a Chinese company, I'll give 1000:1 odds.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:53 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Price tag of $40bn (£26bn). Panama Canal cost about 14 billion in todays money (rough estimate). Either way, money well spent given the economic benefit.
posted by stbalbach at 8:55 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'll bet a Nicaragua Canal costs a lot fewer lives in construction that the Panama Canal did.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:40 AM on June 11, 2013


nickrussell: Rather than be snarky about Chinese environmental standards, get your own house in order, and worry about everyone else after that.
That argument doesn't hold when the entire Earth is "our own house". China and the US are the biggest polluters by nation; fixing the second biggest without the leader isn't even doing half the job.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:53 AM on June 11, 2013


GuyZero: At no point do you pump water in from downstream in order to lift the basin level; the pressure from upstream does that.

I suspect there may not be enough water flowing into the lake to do this indefinitely. It would probably drain the lake in short order so they probably pump in sea water to raise the locks. But that's just a guess.
Very unlikely. The lock would have to drain water much, much faster than the Desaguadero River already does.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:03 AM on June 11, 2013


If you're going to pump in seawater to raise the locks, why not just pump in lake water back into the lake instead when lowering the locks?
posted by Behemoth at 10:28 AM on June 11, 2013


One more try and then I'll let y'all get back to assuming that this will have no effect on the lake at all. If you don't know, here is some information about the impacts of shipping on the Great Lakes. Realize that the Great Lakes are a destination for smaller ships, rather than a passage for gigantic ships. Realize that the lake that the Panama Canal goes through is a (beautiful, but) constructed lake (in other words, already ecologically fucked) while Lake Nicaragua is a naturally-formed lake. Realize that every major civil engineering project begins by promising jobs jobs jobs and no ecological impact, but they never end up that way.
posted by hydropsyche at 2:36 PM on June 11, 2013


I don't think anyone is asserting that the canal will have no effect on the lake: merely that nobody is going to be pumping seawater uphill.
posted by Mars Saxman at 4:28 PM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


There will actually be a little -- very little -- seawater entering the lake, because in order to raise the locks for upbound ships lake water is added to the seawater the ship is floating in, and the diluted mix goes on to the next lock where it is diluted again to raise the ship again. So no, seawater isn't pumped at full strength into the lake, but there is a link.

However, unlike the Great Lakes situation these ships are going from a deep water salt ocean environment directly into a fresh water lake. There are not a lot of organisms that can survive that, much less thrive to become pests in the lake environment. And most of those get transported by ballast water release, which can be banned for good reason in the canal system.
posted by localroger at 7:36 PM on June 11, 2013


Keep in mind that there is already shipping up the river to the lake from the carribean side. Grenada is actually considered a carribean port, even though its much closer to the pacific side. Also, the lake is already polluted because Grenada just dumps all their sewage into it. The shark population has been declining for a long time, and the lake already has a problem with a (delicious) invasive species--tilapia. I had a fried tilapia on ometepe that must have been a foot and a half long.

I wouldn't be super concerned about the lake salinating, either. It rains an absurd amount down there. I don't think there is any shortage of fresh water flowing into it.
posted by empath at 8:04 PM on June 11, 2013


Fortunately we can count on China to protect the environment.

And let's not forget the U.S. testing of nuclear weapons in Utah.
posted by mecran01 at 1:50 PM on June 12, 2013


Nicaragua still thinks it can build a better canal than Panama after 200 years of trying
posted by homunculus at 10:10 PM on June 13, 2013


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