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.