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Post Nicaragua's Proposed Canal Route
Created by John Eipper on 12/24/14 4:53 PM

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Nicaragua's Proposed Canal Route (Timothy Brown, USA, 12/24/14 4:53 pm)

I'd like to thank Richard Hancock (24 December) for bringing up Nicaragua and the proposed Nicaragua Canal. Now that it's back in the WAIS discussion, perhaps a little background is in order.

There are seven theoretically possible places from Mexico south to Colombia where an inter-ocean canal can be built. But only one can feasibly be built without locks. From the Caribbean to the Pacific--this route enters Nicaragua at San Juan del Norte, up that river to Lake Nicaragua, turn north to the Rio Tipitapa to Lake Managua, cross it to a dredged channel northward to the Gulf of Fonseca, east of the Cosiguina peninsula. From an engineering perspective, this route is feasible.

In fact, during the Somoza era, some minor work was done along the Rio San Juan to make the river navigable as a LASH canal (lighter-aboard-ship). But this route has some major geopolitical problems. The Rio San Juan itself is in Nicaraguan territory, but its southern bank is Costa Rican territory. So the necessary dredging to deepen and straighten it can only be done jointly with Costa Rica, which has so far not been willing to fully cooperate. And even if Costa Rica did, because the Golfo de Fonseca is shared by Nicaragua with two other countries, Honduras and El Salvador, there would also be problem there. There is now a third problem, the size of the new mega container carriers.

So the original plan for the Chinese-financed canal was a hybrid of a sea-level canal: San Juan del Sur to Lake Nicaragua via the Rio San Juan to a system of locks across the narrow peninsula between Rivas and San Juan del Sur to the Pacific.

But this route, too, has both geopolitical and engineering problems.

So, a few weeks ago, the plan was changed. The plan now is to move the canal north to the Rio Escondido above Bluefields. But, unlike the San Juan route, the Escondido does not flow out of Lake Nicaragua, so this will require digging a canal and series of locks so ships can cross the mountains and lowlands between the Escondido and Lake Nicaragua.

Ain't Central America fun? I've been involved in that region for most of my life, beginning in Nicaragua when I was just 17 years old. It has never been more convoluted than it is today.

JE comments:  San Juan del Sur is a hippie/surfer village with excellent beaches nearby.  Is it now envisioned as the Pacific terminus of the new canal?  This will irrevocably change that sleepy town--development at a huge price.

A big thanks to Tim Brown for this excellent walk-through of the geographical challenges facing the Chinese contractors.

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