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The Rhone in Switzerland

© Camille Moirenc

My source springs from the glacier that bears my name, on the Furka mountain, in the Saint-Gothard massif in westernmost Valais, at an altitude of 2,300 m. I then cross the canton of Valais for 164 km, before flowing into Lake Geneva. At its outlet, I flow for another 25 km before reaching France.

My history with the population is troubled: although everything occurred smoothly until the middle-ages, I then became more dangerous and unpredictable; the inhabitants built dikes to prevent my surges, and my dynamics were studied as early as the 16th century. It was then that the major developments began.

 

Suisse, Canton du Valais, Obergoms, Gletsch, Le Rhone dans la Vallee (vue aerienne) – © Camille Moirenc

“Corrections” to protect the population from my floods

In the 18th century, the economy of the Valais suffered due to my floods. Thus, humans undertook to “correct” me. The first projects comprised dikes; marshes were dried and turned into fields for cultivation. This policy continued at the beginning of the 20th century: the height of my dikes was raised and my bed narrowed to increase the bedload. These strategies resulted in separating me from those that populated my banks, without however providing reliable and satisfactory protection against my floods. Since 2009, with the third of these corrections, 160 km of my course was redeveloped, from my source to Lake Geneva. This time, humans decided to give me room at certain places, by widening and lowering my bed. The challenge was threefold: the restoration of natural habitats, flood protection, and the reappropriation of my banks by the surrounding population. I have come back into people’s lives, thanks to the development of leisure sites.

The power of my water

My discharge was first used in the canton of Geneva in the 15th century to drive watermills. In the middle of the 19th century, my energy was used to produce electricity: hydropower dams were built in the canton of Geneva and that of Valais, providing the latter with its main source of wealth. It produced 10 billion kWh of hydroelectricity every year, representing between 25 and 30% of Swiss production thanks to hydropower dams in the high central mountains and 5 run-of-the-river hydropower plants.

In the canton of Geneva, I drive three hydropower plants operated by the Services Industriels de Genève (SIG). The first of them, at the outlet of Lake Geneva, is the dam of Seujet. Its annual production is quite low, with 25 GWh. It above all participates in regulating the level of the Lake Geneva and permits adjusting my discharge. Thus, the dam of Verbois, located downstream, can adapt its electricity production and supply more during periods of high demand. It has an annual output of 466 GWh. Lastly, the French-Swiss dam of Chancy-Pougny produces 250 GWh/year.

Barrage de Verbois

 

Governing me is an art

I am managed by a large number of organisations, at both federal and cantonal levels.

Upstream of Lake Geneva, I belong to the federal office of the environment (OFEV) while downstream, I am owned by the Canton de Geneva.

  • I am managed by two organisations at the federal level: the OFEV for environmental aspects, and the federal energy office (OFEN) for aspects concerning electricity production.
  • The 3 cantons of Valais, Vaud and Geneva also participate in my management and work together on my 3rd “correction”.

This is not forgetting two industrial actors: the SIG, which produces electricity, distributes heat, gas and water, and manages waste and telecommunications. It is responsible for the operational management of the hydroelectric structures of Seujet and Verbois. The Société des Forces Motrices de Chancy-Pougny is responsible for the dam of Chancy-Pougny.

 

Find out more about me 

 

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