Articles & Case Studies

Final Approval Secured for Design of Key Component in Panama Canal Third Set of Locks Expansion Project

Posted: Thursday 28th April 2011

The international consortium Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC) to whom the ACP has awarded the contract for the design and construction of the Third Set of Locks in July 2009 has received approval on the final design of the filling and emptying system (F/E) for the Third Set of Locks Project Filling as part of the Panama Canal Expansion Project. Stemming from this approval, construction will commence on the F/E system, which includes the major hydraulic components that move water and ships through the lock complexes. MWH is leading the joint venture design team for the project, Consultores Internacionales (CICP), which also includes TetraTech and Iv-Infra. The physical model tests have been carried out in Lyon (France) in the CNR laboratories

The final design includes innovative water saving basins, the largest and first of their kind in the world. The Canal’s lock system uses water from nearby Gatun Lake, a man-made fresh water lake that serves both as a reservoir for the lock system and a source of water for Panama City. During wet months when the lake is full, excess fresh water, upwards of 52 million gallons for each passing ship, is essentially lost to the ocean. The design of the basins for the third set of locks has been proven to reuse 60 percent of the fresh water used in the lock system, while safely transiting ship traffic.

“MWH is proud to be designing a piece of history as the lead designer for one of the most significant engineering projects of this decade,” says Bob Uhler, chief executive officer of MWH. “We’re especially proud of the landmark design solutions for sustainable water management, protecting this most precious resource while helping change and improve the way goods and transported around the world.”

Final design approval follows a series of numerical models followed by a physical model of the lock system and water saving basins. This testing process for final approval of the design has led to improvements in the F/E system resulting in better hydraulic performance and easier vessel handling. The process ultimately confirmed the hydraulic performance of the system and provided ACP with a high degree of confidence in ship transit safety and capacity of the third set of locks.

The third set of locks includes facilities on both the Atlantic and Pacific side and will expand the Canal’s capacity and accommodate larger container cargo and tanker ships, called post-Panamax ships, capable of carrying twice as much cargo. The expansion is scheduled to be completed in 2014, 100 years after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finished the existing canal.

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