Water Woes

Panama has a lot going on, but in some ways it is still a developing country. It’s also growing at a rapid rate and the infrastructure sometimes struggles to keep up.

We are used to being without water for short periods (up to now, never more than a day), and we learned to keep water on hand. Many people have water storage tanks. Sometimes the water would be off because they are fixing something but it would come back on in the evening. Sometimes during the dry season the water would run low so we’d have rolling water outages, kind of like rolling blackouts. At other times we would have so much rain that the inlets that take water from the river would get clogged with mud and debris, and they would have to shut off the water while they cleared them. We could always tell that because the water would come back muddy at first.

The country has been working hard on the water systems. Millions of dollars have been allocated for improvements and to bring safe water as many people as possible. Things have improved here and we went through the last dry season with the water flowing almost all the time. But, Friday evening we noticed the water pressure was dropping, and then the flow stopped entirely.

It is now Monday afternoon and the water is still off. The whole neighborhood is out as well as some of the houses outside our neighborhood. Nobody knows what is going on. Yesterday a water truck came through and people came out with buckets, pails, gallon jugs, anything that would hold water and the truck filled them all.


It’s interesting to see the reactions of the people. They are grumbling a bit now because it’s going on for so long, but no one seems to be seriously upset. People are going to friends for water to bring home for themselves and neighbors in need. Neighbors went out ahead of the truck to alert other neighbors so everyone could get resupplied. Jokes are made about going to the river, but people do use the river if necessary. I myself have bathed in the river, and also in the rainwater pouring off the roof.

This sure makes you think of the millions of people who have no water in their homes, and who have to carry it home from some outside source. We take it so much for granted and I’m sure we use more than we really need.

I have learned that you can wash an entire day of dishes in a gallon of water. You can also bathe two people, including hair, in a gallon of water. You can flush the toilet with a gallon. I don’t know what it takes to wash clothes though. That can wait until we have water again.

If you are considering living in another country, especially one less developed than your home country, keep in mind that you may have to be flexible about some things. This is inconvenient but in the big picture, we still are very well off. And, meanwhile, they are considerate enough to send a water truck to help us out.

About Kris Cunningham

We live in David, Chiriqui Provence, Republic of Panama! This blog is about some of our experiences in our new country.
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22 Responses to Water Woes

  1. As soon as I posted this, the water came back on! I’m off to shower and toss in a load of laundry.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We lived on our sailboat for 6 years and had a water maker that made 8 gallons an hour. Because it ran off our noisy hot generator we only ran it once a day. We literally lived on 8 gallons of water a day. It was very easy once you know that’s all you got. You conserve it.
    We have gone as long as 5 full days of no water coming into our house up here in Brisas Boquetenas. We do have a 600 gallon tank and have never had it go below 1/3 empty. We have a red light that comes on to let us know no water is coming into the tank. We stop using the washer,cook meals that require very little water for cleaning up, and take Navy showers. Even when we do have water we have been in a regular routine of never letting the faucet run without needing it.

    We are lucky…..consider this: ( It’s not millions of people sourcing water every day but almost a billion!!)

    And it is only going to get worse. Mother Nature is reaching the breaking point and if the population keeps growing without having some population control the wars of the future will be about water and food….not oil.
    Granted Panama is making major steps in improving it’s water distribution system including $25 million in upgrades for Boquete that are going on right now. But if population growth continues this new water system will not be able to handle it for long.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Wow! A billion people have to walk 6 kilometers to get water?! Wow, and water is heavy. I wouldn’t even want to go to the river behind our house for all our water. Yes we are very very fortunate here.
      I think we would be fine with 8 gallons a day, though the cooking water for pasta might be recycled to flush the toilet. 😀
      We also got in the habit of being very careful with water when we lived in Florida, especially the last couple years. After they put in a sewer system in our area water got very expensive. I agree, even when you have water it’s good to use no more than you need.


  3. kbb says:

    So can you have your own well in Panama?

    Also I think you ought to give up your nursing license if you can live on your retirement w/o your spouses income.

    I am not retired yet but have given some of mine up as the cost is now outrageous and I would never take a job using those particular ones again.



    • Yes, you can have a well. One of our neighbors put in one recently. I don’t know about cost though compared to a water tank which should keep you supplied during the occasional outage.
      I did give up my license and cost was one factor. I also don’t see paying for something I’m not going to use.


  4. Robert&Helen says:

    When we lived in Saint Lucia(Caribbean) we had always rainwater collection from the roof gutters in a concrete tank of 3000 gallons and also from the mains another 3000 gallons. We lived in Santa Lucia Volcancito, Terrible water supply and days without water and when it came black sludge. Filters to be cleaned every 5 days. Now in Jardines de Boquete we have water from a well and a 6000 gallons water tank 20 feet high for our small community. Good pressure and quality. Water is life. I hardly see any rainwater collection from the roof gutters in Panamá. Also no hot water solar panels on the roofs. Quite standard in the Caribbean.


    • I think most people collect rainwater in buckets for plants, pets, etc but I don’t think they trust it to drink. I haven’t seen the large scale collection systems either though. I think also it’s unusual for Panamanians to use hot water. When I first arrived here my neighbor pointed out this very remarkable and unusual thing outside my house – a hot water heater!! But, down here where it’s warm we almost never use it.
      I’m glad you are in an area with a much better water supply.


      • I’ve lived in the Caribbean for almost 16 years, and you just get used to conserving water. When I lived on the big island of Grand Cayman many people wasted water, mainly because it’s such a rich island most people had the money to spend on water! I did to – at the time – but I still tried to conserve. But for the last 6 years, I’ve lived on the smaller islands of Little Cayman and Cayman Brac. Here water is precious and everyone constantly thinks of conserving, like NEVER leave the water running for long, and never flush the toilet for “number one” until you’ve used it a few times! ALL the houses catch the rainwater off the roof and store them in cisterns. Most people don’t drink this unless it’s filtered really good. These islands are pretty arid, so it doesn’t rain much. During the long dry season, we all buy truckloads of desalinated water, which is drinkable but doesn’t taste that good! I buy 1,000 gallons for about U.S.$45.00 and I can get that to last about a month or so. When I went to Panama, I was surprised that nobody catches rainwater, and when I asked about cisterns, most people didn’t even know what that word meant!


        • I think it rains so much here and there appears to be an endless supply of water, so people haven’t gotten in the habit of worrying about it. Even in the dry season many of the rivers and streams continue to have water. But now that the population is growing and the demand for water is increasing, it is becoming a real concern. Cutting trees in the mountains doesn’t help either because the bare earth doesn’t hold water and release it slowly through the dry months, so they are working on reversing that problem.
          They have put water meters in our neighborhood (and I’m sure others) so if you waste water, now you will have to pay for it. The new locks in the canal reclaim a lot of the water to use again. Broken and leaking water pipes are a common problem but with repaired and upgraded systems hopefully there will be a lot less of that. I see things moving in the right direction so maybe there will be cisterns in our future as well.


  5. oldcameraman says:

    Robert and Helen, I work as an Energy Efficiency consultant in Panama and Solar Water heater panels use is growing. I recently completed a project at the Playa Blanca Resort to refurbish their existing solar water heater panels system which was 10 years old. The General Manager told me that they had to get it working again because many Canadian guests were complaining that they didn’t have hot water for their showers in the morning !!!!


    • Excellent! I didn’t know there was such a position here so I’m very glad to hear this. Better energy efficiency is something that will really benefit this growing country.


  6. madelyn says:

    Even living in the U.S. with plentiful water, I have installed 3 connected 55 gal. drums with downspout first flush rain water collection system. Even a light rain will fill a 55 gal. food grade plastic drum. In the olden days, everyone had rain barrels. Rain water is prob as pure as a lot of what comes out of kitchen faucets. Adding less than a teaspoon of powdered chlorine kills bacteria in 55 gals. Blessed to have the Etowah River going through my backyard for flushing, washing, cleaning if ever needed. Ideally, springs and a well on property is a most excellent thing. With the torrential rainy seasons in Panama, seems one could harvest much in rain barrels.


    • Ahh yes, we had a couple of those 55 gallon drums in Florida too, and used that water for watering plants. I like rain water. If it has been raining enough to clean the roof, I’ll collect some for drinking. Yes we do have some crazy rains here! I’ve been able to fill a five gallon bucket in just a minute or two when it really gets going.


  7. jim and nena says:

    Hi Kris,
    my brother has made annual trips to Africa to install fresh water wells in the villages in Malawi and Liberia. The pumps are simple designs, built completely in country, and easy to maintain. Before these wells, the villagers got their drinking water during the dry season from waste water collecting in the ponds and ditches.
    Here is an interesting project from the same guy who designed the Segway vehicle. If he can get enough funding, he predicts he could eliminate half the human illness caused by contaminated water.

    On the topic of collecting rainwater for storage, open water storage breeds mosquitoes and Panama has laws to fine folks who have standing water stored where mosquitoes can breed. The Canal Zone used to be one of the most mosquito-free areas that I have every lived in when the US still ran it. Dallas-Fort Worth had more mosquito illness cases than all of Panama last year!

    Liked by 2 people

    • madelyn says:

      My rain barrel collection system works with completely closed barrels with spigots at bottom. Small hose attachment drilled directly into roof drain gutter downspout and then into closed 55 gal. barrel. All catchment system is completely closed to open air=no mosquitoes.


      • I fill a 5 gallon bucket sometimes, but if it isn’t used in two days it gets tossed out. I also change water in the birdbath at least every other day.
        When I was in Florida our system was like Madelyn’s.


      • That is exactly what we have, as well, closed with a spigot. I’m in Northern Illinois and I use the water for my plants when it doesn’t rain for long periods in the heat of summer. It will fill up again with one rainfall.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, how interesting. Water is so critical, and how wonderful that people are helping bring clean water to people who need it.
      Here, there are people from the dept of health going around town educating people on mosquito control and eliminating standing water where they can breed. I’m already very familiar with that from living in Florida where the mosquitoes were a big problem. I am thankful that we seem to have very few mosquitoes here and I can sit out all evening if I want to.


  8. Hi Kris, Reading your Water Woes post reminds me of growing up in India – where we had water delivered to Granny and Grandpa’s house in a big steel drum on the back of a bullock cart, and then carried by the bucket-full up a short flight of cement steps to the overhead tank that fed the plumbing in the house. Later when municipal water was delivered, Grandpa had a cistern installed (lined with brick and cement) into which the water line led. Water came only at certain times and on select days (not every day). Additional progress was made in the form of a pump Grandpa installed to pump the water from the cistern up to the same overhead tank that still fed the plumbing. As soon as the municipal water started flowing, the pump would be started up to make sure we were able to collect every last drop of water that fell into the cistern from the municipal line.
    I missed the bullock cart, and the sound of the bells around the bullock’s necks.


    • Wow, that sounds like a whole lot of work in the beginning, having to hand carry water up to the storage tank! We don’t know how lucky we are to have faucets that pour out water, even if they occasionally don’t work. Carrying a 5 gallon bucket of water from the truck that came through reminded me of how heavy water is. I wouldn’t want to carry the whole household supply upstairs!


  9. jim and nena says:

    OMG, OMG! I was in the middle of my midday shower after working in the yard all morning and the water pressure suddenly dropped to half pressure. I thought sure we had broken a main or something as we have only lost water twice in 16 years here in our 60 year old Fort Worth neighborhood.

    I grabbed a towel and looked out a front window to see if there were any geysers and there was a water department guy in the cul de sac with a hydrant open. They do that on a regular schedule to insure the fire department has a working hydrant when it is needed. Even with the hydrant open, I still had enough pressure to finish my shower, just not the pressure I normally see.


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