Panama City, Florida is a hub of rivers and waterways, many of which are linked to the Panama Canal. The Gatún Dam is a massive earthen dam that spans the Chagres River in Panama, close to the city of Gatún. This dam, constructed between 1907 and 1913, is an essential part of the Panama Canal; it encloses the artificial lake Gatún, which in turn transports 33 kilometers (21 miles) of their transit through the Isthmus of Panama to ships. Additionally, a hydroelectric power plant at the dam generates electricity that is used to operate the locks and other equipment in the canal. The Apalachicola River is one of the most significant rivers in Panama City, Florida.
This river provides much of the water needed to operate the canal, and is also the source of most of Panama City's water supply. A benthic study of Apalachicola Bay conducted by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection revealed that polychaetes, bivalves, gastropods and amphipods dominated the total abundance of this community. A total of 131 species of freshwater and estuarine fish have been identified in the Apalachicola River, and 40 of these species are only found in the lower tidal reaches of this river system. The Chipola River is another important river in Panama City, Florida. The Chipola slab is located in this river, a tributary of the lower part of the Apalachicola River.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) reported the discovery of 12 new subpopulations with many individuals. The Chipola River is designated by the state as Florida Outstanding Waters, and the state has designated 104,000-acre Apalachicola Bay Aquatic Reserve. The endangered three-crested fat mussel, the threatened purple nuthatch and the threatened Chipola shell live in the sand and gravel bottoms of streams and rivers. Spotted trout and redfish move to the lower part of the river during wintertime, and young groupers and snappers inhabit wetlands and swamps of the Apalachicola basin before moving to marine waters. Gulf sturgeons are anadromous and migrate upstream from the Gulf of Mexico in spring to spawn near river headwaters. The construction of Gatún Dam was a remarkable engineering feat; at its completion, it was the largest earthen dam in the world and Lake Gatún was the largest artificial lake in the world.
Since then, changes in freshwater inflows to Apalachicola Bay may result in an increase in salinity in this bay. The Revised Operating Plan (RIOP) could also alter flows downstream from Woodruff Dam and reduce inflow to Apalachicola Bay; this could have a detrimental effect on many species. In conclusion, Panama City, Florida is home to a variety of rivers and waterways that are connected to both local ecosystems and global trade routes. The Gatún Dam is an integral part of this system; it encloses Lake Gatún which transports ships through Panama Canal. The Apalachicola River supplies much needed water for both canal operations and local communities while Chipola River provides habitat for endangered species such as three-crested fat mussel.
Changes in freshwater inflows could have negative effects on many species living in these rivers.