Canal Ends Half Century's Association with Municipal Services in Panama, Colon

From The Panama Canal Review, July 3, 1953


Termination of the water management contract and the agreement by which the Canal collected garbage in the terminal cities of Panama and Colon and the assumption of responsibility for these services by the Republic of Panama ended almost 50 years of Canal Zone association with the Republic's water and garbage services. From late 1903 until July 1 of this year, either in connection with the water and sewage systems or from funds derived from the management contract, there were laid in Panama and Colon 46 miles of pipe, varying from 6 inches to 16 inches in diameter, 56 miles of sewer lines and 43 miles of paved streets. In addition streets were maintained in both terminal cities. There was no public water supply in the city of Panama and only a limited supply in Colon when the United States took over the French Canal Company's properties in May 1904. One of the articles of the 1903 treaty provided, among other things, that Panama grant the United States the right "to any works of sanitation such as the collection and disposition of sewage and the distribution of water in the cities of Panama and Colon." The expense of such works was to be borne by the United States, which was authorized "to impose and collect water rates and sewage rates" sufficient to amortize their cost in a 50-year period. At the end of this period, these properties were to revert to Panama.

Water From Rio Grande

Engineers immediately went to work on the Panama City water system, finally deciding to supply the city from the headwaters of the Rio Grande, about 10 miles from the southern end of Culebra - now Gaillard Cut, where the French Panama Canal Company had formed a reservoir by means of a masonry dam. They decided to raise the dam to a height of 212 feet above mean high tide, and to conduct water from this reservoir, by a 16-inch pipe, from the Rio Grande to a million-gallon distributing reservoir in Ancon, from which it would feed into Panama by gravity flow. The water system was designed to supply a population of 30,000 people with 60 gallons apiece daily. There was some delay in construction of the Ancon reservoir and pending its completion the city was supplied by direct pressure from the Rio Grande pipeline. Water was turned on in Panama City for the first time on July 4, 1905. The Isthmian Canal Commission report for that year recounts how the Municipal Council held a special session and adopted a resolution of thanks to the government of the Canal Zone. The President, his cabinet, and Canal Zone officials attended a special Mass of thanks in the Cathedral in Panama City. By the end of 1906, the water system for the capital was completed, except for a few house connections. Where these were still lacking fire hydrants supplied the populace.

Water For Colon

On the Atlantic side, the story was somewhat different. In 1904, that part of Colon which was occupied by officials and employees of the Panama Railroad and by foreign consuls was supplied with water brought by the Railroad Company through a small iron pipe from a small reservoir near Mt. Hope. The rest of the population collected rainwater in iron tanks. In 1906 the Isthmian Canal Commission reported a successful solution to this problem, saying: "Colon and Cristobal now have an abundant supply of pure and wholesome water from a receiving reservoir two miles back from Mt. Hope. This reservoir has a capacity of 508,000,000 gallons ... Street hydrants have been placed every 700 feet in Colon to supply the inhabitants with water until house connections are made." During the quarter ending June 30, 1906, by which time there were 432 consumers in Panama City a water rate was set at "$4 silver a quarter". This entitled the consumer to 10,000 gallons of water during the quarter; there was a charge of "40 cents silver" for each additional 1,000 gallons but the user's bill was cut by "10 cents silver per 1,000 gallons" if the account was paid within 15 days of the due date. The rate in Colon was higher: "$9 silver a quarter for 10,000 gallons," and "90 cents silver" for each additional 1,000 gallons. Meters were not installed until the middle of 1907.

Filtration Plants

Filtered water came later. A filtration plant was opened at Mt. Hope February 23, 1914, and the Miraflores Filtration Plant went into service March 14, 1915. On August 1, 1926, Panama and the Untied States signed an agreement, whereby the United States was to do street cleaning and garbage collections in Panama and Colon, Panama bearing three-quarters of the cost and the Canal Zone the remaining quarter. On May 28, 1942, the United States and Panama entered into what is known as a "General Relations Agreement," and under a provision of this the United States, on January 1, 1946, transferred the water and sewerage systems to the Republic of Panama. At this date the unamortized value of water and sewage systems and pavements in the Republic of Panama was $669,226.38.

Management Contract

On this same day, Panama and The Panama Canal signed a management contract under which the Canal agreed to manage the water and sewerage systems and the street paving functions for Panama's account in Panama City and Colon. All of Colon was included in the management contract but only that part of Panama City between the tip of the city at French Plaza and the old Tumba Muerto Road -close to El Panama Hotel- was in the contract. Panama itself handled water in the suburban areas. The Republic's share of the garbage collection and street cleaning costs was to be paid from proceeds of the collections for the water and sewerage accounts. Early last month, the Maintenance Division which maintained the streets and handled the water management contract had eight U.S.-rate and 73 local-rate employees on this work. The Health Bureau, which handled garbage and trash collection, employed four U.S.-rate men and about 700 local-rate employees on this part of their work. The new arrangement, which went into effect this week, does not affect the New Cristobal-Colon Beach and Fort DeLesseps area, since the 1946 transfer specifically provides that the United States has full responsibility, without cost to Panama, of maintaining and operating water and sewerage systems in these U.S.-occupied areas, as well as maintaining, cleaning and keeping in repair all streets and pavements and collecting all garbage in these sections.


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