Water Problems in Chiriquí

I have written about this before, but since it is a current discussion in one of the Yahoo groups again, I decided to write my answer here, rather than the Yahoo group, so that more people could see the discussion.

There are multiple problems with water in Panama and I am speaking specifically about Chiriquí. The problems fall into two main categories, quantity and quality.
The following question was asked on the Yahoo group;

I’m talking about quantity not quality. Homes being sold with 660 gal. reserve tanks. Why? There must be some type of limitation on water being supplied at some periods or something causing people to invest in large water tanks in there yards.”

Let me discuss quality first. How good (healthy) the water is depends on where you live. When I lived in Boquete, Dr. Pretelt always told everyone they should boil their water for drinking or for washing vegetables. I assume he is still giving the same advice. Some areas, the water will test better than other areas. If you have a concern about your water’s quality, then I recommend that you have it checked periodically. Many people put in their own water purification systems or buy bottled water for drinking. I believe that the David water is better than many rural areas, but that also may depend on where you live in David. NOTE the UPDATE BELOW.

Next is the discussion of quantity. Here again there are multiple topics. At the present, there are homes, in some areas of Boquete, where the recent rainfall had caused instability in the ground, that some houses are built on, to the point that they are on the verge of collapse. A second problem is sufficient quantity for use in a house.

You will see water storage tanks all over Panama. You will see more in rural areas, that may have poor distribution from a municipal provider. Typically, all water lines I have seen are old and many sections are PVC. Many will be running above ground just waiting for some to hit it and break it. A broken line may create an outage for several days.

Also, even if there is sufficient water, the pressure may not be enough to activate a instant on hot water heater. Therefore many people put in a tank (filled by water from the municipal provider) to have plenty of water at all times and also put in a pump to provide pressure for their house.

That being the case, before you buy in any location in Panama, you should find out what the water situation is for that area. Ask a neighbor living in the same area. Do not ask the person selling the property.

Where I live in David, I can expect to have 3 – 4 water outages a year. That is what I have averaged in the last three years. After an outage, I may have another day of water pressure problems. I have never been out of water long enough that it was a real problem. I have talked to others that live in the David area that have significant problems. They have more outages and their pressure isn’t high enough to take showers.

I am sure others may comment, but that is the water problems as I know it. I understand that this is a topic of high interest for those thinking about moving to Panama.

UPDATE: The following notice has also been written for David. Time to have all water tested again.

David water crisis linked to meningitis outbreak
A shortage of potable water in Chiriquí has been blamed for 200 cases of meningitis in the region.

Idaan officials in the province say that a significant state investment is needed to correct the water system.

Chiriquí authorities are in disagreement over the reason for the province’s chronic water crisis, which has been linked to an outbreak of meningitis in David and Dolega.

Governor of Chiriquí Virgilio Vergara blamed the enormous growth in the David area for the shortage, while Pedregal representative Rubén Guerra insisted that the government neglected to support the Instituto de Acueductos y Alcantarillados (Idaan), the water and sewer authority in the region.

Over 200 students have come down with meningitis in David and Dolega, where the shortage of potable water is most severe.

Guerra, a former Idaan official, said the government needs to loosen its purse strings and put an end to Idaan’s problems in Chiriquí. “A significant investment is what’s needed,” said Guerra. “In the dry season the water intake doesn’t have the capacity to accumulate sufficient reserves and in the rainy season it gets clogged with sediment.”

The water treatment system breaks down at least five times a year. Restaurants are forced to close and public health suffers from a lack of safe drinking water, as attested to by the recent outbreak of meningitis.

Vergara explained that in the dry season David’s 100,000 residents face a water shortfall of about 4 million gallons.

“The week before last, the system collapsed because a [tree] trunk blocked water intake from the Río David, which took a lot of effort to clean up,” said Vergara.”We’re going to implement a system to capture more water, connecting it to Dolega’s water treatment plant,” he added.

Some Idaan officials, who asked to remain anonymous, have proposed cleaning water intake channels on the Río Majagua, the region’s second biggest tributary, which are only flowing at 20 percent capacity. Andrés Pineda, of Idaan’s production department, confirmed that restoring access to Río Majagua could increase production to 25 million gallons, which would cover David’s daily consumption.

17 thoughts on “Water Problems in Chiriquí

  1. Well done, Don!!! You’ve covered things very completely.

    If you’re smart here in Chiriquí, you have reserve a water tank, at least 400 gallons. Conserving, you can get by for 3 days on that amount.

    Not only are the lines old and exposed, but the rural people have absolutely no concept of water conservation. We’ve had to train the people who work for us (except for Darío) NOT to leave the faucets on and running. This is particularly true of domestic workers.

    In addition, the lines are poorly maintained. If you haven’t already, you can check out what I have to say about our experiences with water on my blog. Don has been thorough; I just have some different details is all. Remember, there are only FIVE maintenance workers for the entire province. When we had major breaks last year thanks to a storm and various accidents, it took DAYS to restore the lines. I think one time we went without water for 5 days. Grim.

    If one could see where homes are being built in the Boquete area and know about mud slides, know about the rain, know how saturated the ground gets here (and we’ve just started the rainy season) one would KNOW without a shadow of a doubt that some of those home are going to slide right off the mountain. Already there was a pretty good-sized mud slide in Valle Escondido last week, although no homes were threatened (this time).

    The meningitis thing is scary. Our water, the very few times it’s been checked out, is excellent, but who’s to say what down the line?

    Oh and let us not forget that IDAAN overall is underfunded and, like most government resources, most of those too-limited resources go to Panama City. Torrijos’ answer to Boquete’s water problems last year? He promised a STUDY! Yes, a study, after which no doubt water will miraculously appear from nowhere.

  2. Hi Joyce. Thanks for adding a comment. The study is understandable. That will get it out of his term and make it someone else’s problem.

  3. Very interesting…I stumbled upon y’all doing more looking for Panama. We had just decided today that we would seriously consider Boquete and specifically purchasing in Valle Escondido. That has definitely gone out the window after reading about the mudslides, water problem, and houses going downhill ! Still, we want to retire in Panama and be in the high country, so any help on the better areas would be greatly appreciated.

  4. Hi J&D, Don’t be discouraged. There are olenty of options. However, it is really better to visit, find an area you like and live ther for at least six months in both the rainy and the dry season, to see if Panama is right for you.

  5. Hi Don;
    Here’s a short update on the water problems in Valle Escondido. Probably worse than those of us that bought there expected, but better than many areas in Boquete. There is a 40,000 gal main reservoir that supplies the residents which gets replenished from underground springs. The water is tested 4 times per year. The resort and golf course get water from a separate system supposedly. Shortages occur in the dry season because usage increases due to landscape irrigation. There was a landslide that blocked a road recently, but no homes were affected. This happens every rainy season and the worst that I’ve heard is that a small boulder entered a villa once and another villa was flooded due to rain gutters being overwhelmed. The good news is that the HOA has been diligent and competent in dealing with problems, finding solutions, and informing the residents, unlike the self-serving busy bodies that seem to run HOAs in the states.
    In addition, the town is putting a new supply pipe through VE valley to bring water from a source beyond VE into town. I believe that there is more awareness and education about the water situation than ever before and that those considering moves to Panama will have more reliable information than predecessors. Thanks for the water update Don, I hope this adds to the information for some.

  6. Good Morning from Texas…
    Thanks for your reply, Mr. Don, and to you also Mr. Greg for the update. Dan and I will most definitely be spending time in Panama before moving permanently. We both know that we want to be in the high country mainly for the temperature comfort…will leave the beach baking to those of the younger set, as we are getting long in the tooth at 54 and 56 . I am curious though about the humidity level, sometimes here in TX it’s like getting slapped in the face with a steaming wet blanket! I spent hours on your site last night reading…hope you don’t mind that you will be my new best friend along with some of the others who post here…by far the most informative site I have visited. Thanks to all.

  7. Hi J&D. Glad to have you aboard. There is humidity all over Panama. I have never found it to be as severe as I remember the Houston humidity. I liced most of my life in the Dallas area and I have been able to adjust to this climate and not sure I could ever return to the states. However, one should never say never.

  8. Hey, Mr. Don,
    This has nothing to do with the water quality but the quantity of availability. A year & 1/2 year ago (On vacation) went property searching & came across a neighborhood between Dolega & Boquete. Seen; Casa for sale. So I when to check it out. Homes around $300K + are with a killer view of the Baru & valley below in their back yard! – Awesome. As I enter this beautiful home, I noticed several filled 5gal buckets of water on the side of the house, the owner stated they had very poor water reservoir & need it during the peek times of use.

  9. I have to disagree with you on this Gary. While the quality of the water is better than in most other areas of the world, it still needs to be tested periodically. Many people that live in the remote areas will get parasites if they use the water without boiling it first.

    I do agree that the quantity is also a problem and more so in some areas than others.

  10. Each new entry creates another question. You’ve probably addressed these before, but being new to the site I have to ask. On the water situation…do individual deep wells exist for property owners? I have a well and recently community water came here…it was nasty, so I still use my deep well, water is sweeter and without all the added chemicals.
    I am also wondering if there is a type of sponsor program among the ex-pats for us newbies with so many different questions. It would certainly be a great help to have someone familiar with most aspects to turn to with my (sometimes) silly questions such as “should I stock up on underwear and toothpaste” . The not so silly…medical care and medication availabilty for Vets, all the different types of insurances needed for home, auto, health; and median cost of living for a couple of “middle class” income by U.S. standards.
    Our retirement to Panama is not a whim and not an overnight decision. We’ve talked about it seriously for the past year and figure it will still be another year to year and half before the permanent move. While the net has given us much info, your site has done so much more in giving us a personal view over the guide book view.

  11. HI J&D. Many of the Yahoo groups on Panama have file sections that may answer any question you don’t find answered here. I am not aware of any ex-pat sponsor organization that would not exist solely for the purpose of getting you to buy something.

    Don’t worry about underwear and toothpaste. Most things that you want, you will find here. Things to bring are tools, technology etc.

    There is a Panama Law Yahoo group you should probably search for, Can’t help you with health care for vets either, but having vet health care will be an advantage for you. Glad you have found a few things worthwhile in CC.

  12. Dan will be happy to hear about the tools. He does plasma metal work, welding, had a repair shop at one time for mowers, and other engine stuff…don’t guess he will need to bring the repair books on snow blowers though…(grin). Myself, I am the retired vet and then went back to school and became a nurse. Our next step is to take some basic spanish courses at the local college. I’m sure Dan will have some questions about getting his equipment there safely. Thanks for the advice on the yahoo groups to search out. It’s a shame there isn’t a volunteer group of ex-pats willing to be internet pen pals to the newly arrived, it’s always scary going to a new country and not knowing anyone or the area. Ahhh well, sometimes you just have to jump in with both feet and limited knowledge…LOL.

  13. Hi Don,
    RE: water quantity and quality, do you know of a national database or other source that gives stats/info. on quality and quantity in different areas/regions of Panama?

    For instance, Volcan, Conception area; higher elevations near Panama City, etc.

    Thanks. Take care. Charloe

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