Impressive progress is being made on the most ambitious waterway restoration project in France, the 270km long river Lot. Although massive hurdles remain to be overcome at the large hydroelectric dams – Fumel, Luzech and Cajarc – the project conceived in 1973 by Christian Bernad, president of the Association Aménagement Vallée du Lot, is moving slowly but surely towards eventual completion.
The above map shows the downstream section of the river, from the confluence with the Garonne through to the département Lot and its chief town Cahors. This highlights the relatively short missing links. Within the département Lot et Garonne two locks need to be built, one at Saint-Vite and the 8m deep lock beside the dam at Fumel. Above Fumel is the boundary with the département Lot, which was initially content with its 64km navigable section opened in 1991. Under pressure from local authorities, however, this département committed to opening further lengths of the river, hence the 12km extension upstream (not on this map) and especially the series of 9 locks over a length of nearly 40km between Fumel and Albas.
One of our members has just sent this view of works in progress at one of these locks, Floiras, number 18 on the above map*. As at many locations on the river Lot, the head is exploited by a small hydropower plant, so that the lock is located at some distance from the river bank.
When this lock is opened later in 2012, the missing link to the middle section of the Lot at Luzech will be only 7km long, including the large-scale works at Luzech itself (probably requiring a new tunnel) and the 3.70m deep lock at Albas.
For details of French waterways and projects throughout the network, see my guide Inland Waterways of France, published by Imray.
Let us know what you think about the River Lot Restoration project!
* The idea of numbering the locks, from 1 (Nicole) to 57 (Marcenac) was put forward in a planning study completed by the author in 1992, to give a sense of unity among the projects implemented piecemeal along the different sections of the river. This idea has not been taken up to date, one reason being that the projects for the missing links remain to be confirmed in terms of technical, financial and economic feasibility.
The featured image (click on title of post if necessary, to see it) has been amended to take into account the elimination of Escambous lock; the hypothetical total is therefore 57 and not 58 locks as originally posted. Click on the image below for an overview of the upstream section.
The River Lot is the most beautiful waterway of South West France and deserves this completion work. I have cruised it several times (and been stuck with the river in flood) and would love to see it reopened fully, to the benefit also of the riverside towns and villages
The River Lot could be one of the most enchanting long-distance cruising rivers in France – in fact it already is, albeit divided into sections.
It would be excellent to see the ‘missing links’ provided. Saint-Vite does not look too difficult, but Fumel is a more significant problem because of contaminated land in the vicinity of the barrage, resulting from the adjacent metal fabrication works.
Of course, the key to any kind of viability in all of these commendable past and future efforts – and the significant amounts of capital invested – is the Garonne Crossing. The passage along the Garonne, from the mouth of the Baise down to the mouth of the Lot is both unpredictable and circumscribed. Various ‘considerations’ but also some real technical problems appear to prevent any works to improve that situation, but it seems to me that the answer lies in a new, quite short, connection between the Canal de Garonne and the river downstream from Nicole, where depth is consistent and feasible, and where the river current naturally slows.
Looking forward to some more news!
I fully agree with George. The lower Lot is beautiful. A lovely change to canal cruising. It has many excellent moorings, all but two are free and most give water and electricity. The current situation for crossing the Garonne is a joke. Serious dredging is required to guarantee navigation and attract more boats. Le Boat pulled out a few years back due to the frequent problems with boats being trapped. Some guide books/charts also suggest that once a skipper has a boat licence, no pilot is required for the crossing. This is incorrect as all boats are obliged to take a pilot, and pay for it. It is sad to see towns like Clairac in decline due to lack of visitors. Let us hope the restoration works continue, that more boaters will visit and that the water companies do not take over and charge a fortune to stay.
We spent time on the upper Lot in 2009 on a Le Boat cruise, and we are now booked from Le Mas d’Agenais for 10 days ending in Condom. As part of our journey we would love to do part of the lower Lot. It seems that the crossing of the Garonne could be risky and possibly time-consuming. We are planning to cross in to the Lot on 30th April 2013 and spend a couple of days there. In your experience, would this be a reasonable time of year to attempt this? We have three boats. Do you foresee any unpublished problems that we may encounter such as availability of pilots etc?
It so happens that I am also planning to cross into the Lot on the same day- 30th April 2013 in our boat Bon Viveur 2. Have you had any answers to to your question and are you still intending to make the crossing? If so I will look out for you.
I understand that the pilot service is open for half a day on Tuesdays and Thursdays and all day on Mondays and Fridays.Can you confirm this? I have sought advice from the boatyard at Castelmoron and await their reply.
Water level should not be a problem at this time of year, unless there is too much water! If all goers smootly the actual crossing of the Garonne is said to take no more than one hour.
It’s good to hear that progress continues on this restoration. However, it’s frustrating not to be able to find a more complete description of the scheme even after spending some time on Google. Can anyone suggest where to look?
I’d particularly like to know:
- What the scheme consists of in total (i.e. what works are planned)
- The timetable for completing the rest of the envisaged works
- What thoughts there are on restoring the rest of the original navigation, upstream of where the scheme terminates
Also, how serious is flooding on the Lot now? I understand it has been reduced somewhat by the hydro dams, but is it now safe to moor on the river year-round?
The overall project is the same as it was when the then Minister of the Interior Charles Pasqua approved Government funding for the Lot Valley development in 1993. The €122 million budgeted then was for many other investments, not just restoration of navigability, but the recreational navigation (or tourisme fluvial) component of the project was justified because it covered the whole waterway. In practice, it was obvious from the outset that the major obstacles would not be funded in the short or even the medium term, but navigability throughout the 270km remains the ultimate objective. For reasons of technical complexity and above all cost, I’m afraid there can be no commitment to any timetable. The complexity relates to the river’s important function of producing hydroelectric power, which has effectively taken over some of the key navigation structures, such as the tunnels in Montbrun and Cajarc. At Luzech, the deep cutting through the neck of the meander cannot be reopened because this is now the main square in the middle of the village, with a bridge abutment in the middle of the former canal, so major new works are required there. Here, as elsewhere, the key to levering the necessary investments is the demonstration of economic feasibility, considering all the impacts of the revitalised waterway. The département Lot seems happy with Larnagol as its upstream limit for the time being, that’s 75km in all from Luzech, and 11km added to the initial length opened in 1991. Flooding will always be a problem, and will always interrupt the cruising season at times. What has been significantly improved is the impact of ‘artificial flooding’ by EDF using the hydropower potential during any 24-hour period during the season. In other words, the variations in flow according to the needs of the electricity supply grid are kept within reasonable limits during the cruising season. Of course that doesn’t have any impact on natural floods, and the highest navigable water level corresponds to a discharge that is not very high. A more serious interruption occurs every 10 years or so, when the EDF reservoirs in the upstream valleys of the Lot and especially the Truyère have to be drained for dam inspection and maintenance. Boats can be safe from floods at a range of sites throughout the river, such as Marcenac in Aveyron, Cajarc, the canal at Saint-Géry, Luzech, Penne d’Agenais, Castelmoron…
David, thanks for all the additional information. But, of course, it only raises more questions! Sorry.
1. Might reinstating the Luzech cut be possible if it were given a curve at each end to avoid the bridges? Yes, this might mean relocating the locks (assuming they still exist under the fill at the downstream end), but that shouldn’t be a prohibitive job if done as part of the re-excavation project, I think. If the locals insist the cut can no longer be open to the sky, a (cut-and-cover) “roof” solution such as on the Vilaine in Rennes, or on the Canal St-Martin in Paris, might be possible.
2. What is the status of the tunnels? You say Cajarc and Montbrun are being put to use as part of the hydro-electric schemes, but what use is that? Charles Berg’s site (http://projetbabel.org/fluvial/rica_lot-riviere.htm) has fairly recent (2005?) photos of Montbrun, showing it as still complete and merely gated. How about Capdenac (which, as for Montbrun, I couldn’t see at all on Google Earth; Cajarc’s downstream entry basin is plainly visible though.
3. How serious is the ground pollution problem at Fumel? Are the earthworks required for the lock large enough to make dealing with the polluted material disturbed a major cause of delay?
Although it seems fairly unlikely that there will ever be any future navigation much above Port d’Agres, reopening the rest of the river looks like something that can reasonably be achieved. I hope so — it looks like a wonderful route.
1. Luzech cut – This was exactly what Jean-Marcel Ferlay (then secretary of the Entente Vallée du Lot) envisaged back in the early 1990s: a compromise solution, with the canal and boats visible under a transparent roof in places. A problem with this project is that once through to the Lot on the upstream side, you have still to build a new lock 6m deep to bypass Luzech dam. But for the village of Luzech you are quite right; there would be many benefits in restoring the canal through the village.
2. Tunnels as headraces – Cajarc and Montbrun tunnels carry the flow through to the hydropower plants; this is already a problem. But in addition to the flow, the locks can no longer be restored for navigation. The double staircase at Cajarc is used as a spillway in case of a sudden turbine shutdown, and the upstream head of the locks has been completely modified with a curved concrete wall. At Montbrun the power plant was built on the lock. Building afresh for the waterway avoids massive costs in relocating the hydropower function, and this despite the fact that the concessions are limited to 30 years. Renewable energy is higher on the political agenda than international waterway tourism,… for the time being.
3. Pollution at Fumel – the problem here is the administrative and legal context – procedures and authorisations, and of course funding – with a kind of Catch 22, as already encountered at other sites. It’s not an issue of volume or technical difficulty.
We appreciate your enthusiasm for the Lot, which we of course share, that’s why we’ve been promoting it for nearly 30 years!
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