Water conveyors and waterways in Lombardy

A sense of urgency permeates the air in Lombardy as well as in neighbouring Piedmont, Emilia Romagna and Veneto regions, regarding Italy’s network of navigable canals and rivers. What reality will be revealed to the world of inland waterway specialists and advocates, meeting in Milan on September 1st for the 27th World Canals Conference? It is a reality of water conveyors and waterways, in places going their separate ways, but often combined within the same bed. Waterway cross-roads, intakes, siphons, spillways, aqueducts are the nodes of an intricate network spun across the Lombardy plain, and nothing is simple. Even Italy’s second biggest Alpine lake, Lago Maggiore, is used as a reservoir and drawn down by as much as 1.50m to secure irrigation water supplies during a dry summer.

Article in La Stampa

The ambitious project to restore navigation between Lago Maggiore (Locarno) and the river Po is regularly covered by the regional and national Press. This article focuses on work to start soon on a new lock at Porto della Torre, on the Piedmont bank of the Ticino

It is nearly 20 years since IWI’s founders attended a conference in Milan on the ‘civilisation of water and waterways’ and the heritage left by Leonardo da Vinci and other great Italian engineers. At that time a grouping of Rotary clubs in the Adda valley was actively promoting restoration of the locks on the Adda as well as the Naviglio di Paderno (followed by the Martesana towards Milan). The campaign sadly lost momentum after the president Mario Roveda died of a heart attack in 1997, but IWI, represented in Italy by industrial archeology expert Edo Bricchetti, has constantly been supporting the regional initiatives in favour of a navigable system serving ‘slow’ tourism and appreciation of the extraordinary heritage and environment of the canal corridors.

Navigli Lombardi was founded to drive these efforts, but does not manage the canals themselves; that is the prerogative of the Consorzio Villoresi, which has the concession from the Region to manage the water resource and supply the many needs of agriculture, industry and the population. This means that the ‘water conveyor’ function has priority here, in the same way as it has priority on another famous southern European canal, the Canal de Castilla in Spain.

Despite this priority, politicians in Milan and across the plain, including the neighbouring regions, are massively in favour of restoring and adapting the 1000-year legacy of canals and controlled rivers, to make navigation once again a regular form of mobility in both urban and rural areas.

Turbigo spillway

This spillway in Turbigo is only one part of a complex junction between the ‘industrial canal’ and the Naviglio Grande

Achieving this goal means compromises and concessions. As climate change increases the pressure on water resources, it is likely to become increasingly difficult to obtain management of water channels that is compatible with navigability, even by professional helmsmen. Another difficulty faced by all players in Lombardy is a certain degree of confusion in the minds of Milanese citizens, possibly even some planners and architects, between water conveyors and waterways. This is only the briefest of introductions to a fascinating story that will be told here in the coming days and weeks… background notes for the discussions during the World Canals Conference and the pre- and post-conference tours. (to be continued)
David Edwards-May

Tribute to canal man Glenn Millar

Glenn Millar

Glenn Millar, economic development manager at the Canal and River Trust

Inland Waterways International as a body and its members as individuals were saddened to hear that Glenn Millar, friend and supporter of inland waterways, passed away in September 2013 after a long illness. Glenn was the economic development manager at the Canal and River Trust (formerly British Waterways), and enthusiastic leader of European cooperation projects on inland waterways. He kept working until 2012 and the successful conclusion of two recent EU-funded waterway projects ‘Waterways Forward’ (Interreg IVC) and ‘Waterways for Growth’ (Interreg IVB, in the North Sea Region).

Glenn, from Northern Ireland, was an ambassador for the waterways and was made Canelero de Honor by Spain in 2006, the same year he was chosen to present a model narrow boat to Mary McAleese, President of Ireland. His networks were prodigious and relationships lasted long beyond the project or committee where they were originally formed. People valued Glenn’s insight but also valued his company and friendship

The portrait reproduced here, by courtesy of the website BoatingBusiness.com, was named ‘Europe Comes Together’; that is a fitting tribute to Glenn’s vision and achievements.

A tribute has also been printed in the new (4th) edition of the European Waterways Map and Directory, published by Euromapping, which is dedicated to his memory.

Parks Canada’s heritage canals saga continues

The saga of the Canadian Heritage canals managed by Parks Canada grinds on. In the early New Year Parks Canada introduced a new fee schedule for using the locks on its three major historic canals; the Rideau, The Trent Severn Waterway and the Quebec Canals.

Not only was Parks Canada proposing a whole new way of charging for the service offered, but also increasing these fees substantially. So for a boater, the cost to use the locks and moor increased well beyond any form of a reasonable increase. This was fuelled by the earlier changes to the navigation season service offer (see earlier posts). That exercise left many boaters, business people, communities, tour and rental boat companies and users very angry. The Government did keep its promise not to reduce the length of the season (see overly optimistic announcement posted here October 23, 2012) however, the devil was in the details, and as it turned out they reduced very substantially the hours of service within the season, the amount or degree of service in the shoulder seasons and reduced operating staff substantially.

So, then in the New Year out came a new fee schedule and format, which caused a firestorm of reaction along the canal corridors. It was so intense that within a couple of days Parks Canada started to make changes most likely in response to the number and intensity of comments they were hearing from the public. Since that time and well before the final date for comments, they have made further changes to their proposals in trying to deal with the shortcomings of the original plan. However, even with these changes the fee rate is increasing substantially. Most users were willing to see rates increase, but something within reason and based on some type of a business case which has not been forthcoming after many requests.

What is sad is the impact it has had on Parks Canada’s credibility as an organization that knew how to operate canals and understood their importance from a cultural, natural or economic perspective. However, the accumulative impact of the changes for lockage fees plus the reduction of service level will without a doubt diminish the use and opportunities which in turn puts more pressure on the increased revenues versus costs ratio that the government seems to be demanding of Parks Canada. It misses the point and doesn’t take into account that these heritage waterways are economic drivers for their communities and they contribute substantially to the GDP of the country. As an example; the Parks Canada Economic Impact Study of the Rideau Canal 2010/2011 determined that the $10.5 million spent on the Rideau, generated $44.4 million to the GDP and supported 641 full time equivalent jobs, and this was only visits to lock stations. It didn’t include the people who visit resorts, restaurants, stores, marinas, museums, etc. that are prevalent up and down the corridor.

So, there are still many unanswered questions. What will the final fee schedule be for the coming navigation season? What will the fall out be on visitation and use of the canal at a time when the government is pushing for economic initiatives to keep the economy healthy? What will the cultural and natural heritage impacts be for these canals after major changes in how they are organized when the number of specialists in these fields has been greatly reduced and are not necessarily on site?  Will the water management function have the capability, knowledge and experience to meet the demand and intricacies of the operation and not seriously jeopardize public safety and is it sustainable? Will all of these changes work over the long haul or will public safety, the heritage values and canal use be in jeopardy? Sadly only time will tell and by then it may be too late!!

David Ballinger

What future for Canal du Midi?

VNF’s summary report on its activities in 2012 devotes one of its 10 chapters to the tree-replanting programme and corporate patronage approach to funding the €200 million restoration of the Canal du Midi’s characteristic landscape.

VNF's new logo

VNF has a logo which keeps the old, enriching it with evocative graphics by Philippe Apeloig

VNF reports (in its New Year press release) that it felled 1668 plane-trees condemned by canker stain in 2012, and replanted 68: the uninformed reader immediately sees a ‘deficit’ of 1600 trees. This sad statistic, however inevitable in view of the experimental nature of the first replanting operations, is like a wake-up call. The tree-felling and replanting debate – and the questions surrounding the should not become an excuse for inaction in other areas.
This is one of many concerns expressed by the Toulouse Waterway Information Network, a grouping of waterway interests in SW France. The network (Réseau Fluvial Toulousain) is challenging local and regional politicians to come up with a robust and workable plan to develop the waterway economy. It is convinced that France in general – and in this case SW France – possesses unique skills, resources and capability to make the canal economy more vibrant, and create more jobs, generate more income.
They say this is what the World Canals Conference* should be all about, and call for a debate to be held in the context of this international conference, a debate which should leave no stone unturned in the search for viable management models and economic development for our canals and rivers.
A properly-planned future for the Canal des Deux Mers should be an issue in the 2014 municipal elections, and the réseau hopes that candidates will state their positions in their manifestos.
* Salons Vanel, Toulouse, 16-19 septembre 2013 – see the WCC web site

Unscrambling Pierre Paul Riquet


Banner outside the Canal du Midi Museum at Saint-Ferréol, to be visited during the 2013 World Canals Conference in Toulouse

The Google Streetview automatic scrambler of peoples’ faces has indiscriminately defaced the creator of the Canal du Midi on a banner outside the canal museum at Saint-Ferréol. This delightful quirk of automation of image processing suggests a new form of request to be made to our omnipotent and omniscient provider of images of the planet: ‘Dear G, Please unscramble the image of Pierre Paul Riquet. He died in 1680, so you’re safe from any legal action!’


Move for restoration of Locarno-Milan waterway

Claudio Repossi of Navigli Lombardi reports on a series of events to raise awareness of the historic, cultural and recreational values of the Locarno (Switzerland) to Milan waterway via the river Ticino.

As part of the joint Italian-Swiss project Intrecci sull’acqua – or Dialogue on the Water – a series of initiatives have been launched, including guided tours of the area and pleasure boating on Lago Maggiore (Verbano), along what is known as the ancient ‘Marble Route’.
(supplying marble for the construction of Milan’s cathedral).

Events planned for the weekends of July, August and September were organised thanks to an agreement between the municipalities involved, the Lombardy Region, the Province of Novara and Navigli Lombardi, the last of which has been active for years with its passenger boat service on the Ticino running between Sesto Calende and the Miorina Barrage (and former lock).

Miorina Lock and Dam

Miorina Lock and Dam on the Ticino River in Lombardy, on the 'Marble Route' (photo © Vito Antongiovanni)

The project includes navigation on the Ticino and on the Lake, partially covering the route taken of old by the barges that carried the precious construction material along the lake-river-canal waterway to Milan.

Today the former waterway is no longer navigable throughout, but great efforts are being made, at a time of crisis in public finances, to reopen it. Miorina lock on the Ticino has recently been restored to working order, and the Panperduto dam, machine hall and adjacent lock are also being rehabilitated. Begun in 2011, the works are financed by Lombardy Region, Consorzio Villoresi, Navigli Lombardi and the electricity utility ENEL, and are to be completed in 2013. Piedmont Region for its part is gathering the funds necessary for the restoration of the Porto della Torre barrage.

Once the works to restore the hydraulic structures on the Ticino are finished, it will be possible to navigate from Lago Maggiore to the start of the Industrial Canal, with four locks to restore as the last obstacle before the final link-up with the Naviglio Grande and Milan.  The Naviglio Grande is already navigable from Turbigo to Cuggiono, albeit with some size limits.

With Expo 2015 in view, an accord for an integrated plan for maintenance of the infrastructure of Milan’s canals and for the valorization of the Navigli and Lombardy waterways as an asset to tourism, the environment and culture, was promoted in May this year by the Lombardy Region, Consorzio Villoresi and Navigli Lombardi. Also involved are the Park management bodies for the Adda Nord Park, the Ticino Park, and the South Milan Agricultural Park. The programme, requiring an investment of around €20million for works to be carried out by June 2015, proposes substantial repairs to the banks of the Naviglio Grande and Naviglio Martesana. It has among its primary objectives the promotion of a Leonardo da Vinci cultural tourism trail along the Lombardy waterways where he experimented successfully with some of the most brilliant hydraulic inventions: the lock flight, the Da Vinci lock and its characteristic stepped upper sill. It also aims to promote the ‘Feed the Planet’ programme, principal theme of the 2015 Milan Expo.

Kindly translated by Maggie Armstrong, ‘Spigolizzi’

Panperduto dam

Panperduto dam and Villoresi hydropower plant on the Ticino, with one of the lock-gate winding capstans in the foreground (photo © Zilvana)

Canal & River Trust launched

The British Government placed 2000 miles of canals and rivers in trust for the nation, as the new charity, the Canal & River Trust, was launched on July 12. The trust takes over responsibility for the canals of England and Wales from British Waterways, 50 years after the British Waterways Board was founded in 1962.

C&RT and BW logos

Canal & River Trust logo compared to the British Waterways logo used since 1981

The change in governance had been planned for several years, as reported in IWI’s publications. The logo neatly adapts the traditional BW humped-back bridge, which had been the public corporation’s logo since 1981. The swan represents the environmental quality and values of the waterways more dynamically and actively than the reeds.

The focus in launching the charity is on the 10 million ‘users and lovers of the canals’ who will have an opportunity to play a greater role in securing their future, through the Trust. The Trust’s first patron is HRH The Prince of Wales, who recorded a welcome speech on June 12. Poet Ian McMillan also wrote an evocative poem for the occasion, ‘Canal Life‘, suggesting that canals hang in that place between memories and water.

Half the population of the UK lives within five miles of a Canal & River Trust waterway. The system has 1569 locks.

The sober statement on the British Waterways web page says that the corporation ceased to exist in England and Wales on July 2. In Scotland British Waterways continues to exist as a legal entity caring for the canals under the trading name ‘Scottish Canals‘.

The Trust has also taken over BW’s information portal waterscape.com.

We wish the Canal & River Trust every success!

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, a UNESCO World Heritage site, at a son et lumière celebration on July 12. The event celebrated creation of the CRT and the 3rd anniversary of listing of the site (shared by Rachel Allen)


Canada’s canals reorganized

Dave Ballinger reports on the changes that are taking place on Canada’s historic canals.

Parks Canada enjoyed a well deserved reputation in the world as an excellent operator, manager and guardian of Canada’s historic canals. However that is about to change. As part of the incumbent government’s deficit cutting program, Parks Canada seems to have an agenda when it comes to the canals under its responsibility. In the last few days many staff have been told who is surplus to the organization. Many of the positions identified are positions that one would consider as important or key to fulfilling the mandate, including water control and resource protection, to name just a couple.

It is understood that there will be one Superintendent for the two canals in Ontario who will be located in Peterborough. There appears to be joining of various functions and they will be located on either the Trent-Severn Waterway or on the Rideau. The question becomes very clearly: is this doable and if not, then what?

Parks Canada historic canals

The main historic canals managed by Parks Canada in Ontario and Quebec (from Euromapping study for IWAC, UK)

As the information becomes available in ‘dribs and drabs’ it is difficult to get a good understanding on what the canals will look like into the future and what their roles and responsibilities will be with what is emerging as a new organization.

Parks Canada in the past has been relatively transparent when it has had to make changes. It was a model for doing public and employee consultation. However that is not the case this time. Severe changes to carrying out the mandate are being proposed and implemented, along with major changes to the organizational structure and way of operating including the announcement of the coming reduction in level of service. All of this has been done without any or minimum input. There have been limited public  announcements from Parks Canada. The only announcement was by a Vice President through the media that there would be no consultation. This is certainly a new approach for this organization, which was a model in providing information and consulting in the past no matter how bad the news.

So what’s next? We know that at the end of August the lock operating and maintenance staff will be told about their jobs. Also we will find out what the level of service will be. So this sad saga is not over yet and as these changes are implemented one has to wonder and be concerned if any of these major organizational changes will also have any implications for  things such as the World Heritage designation for the Rideau Canal in the longer term.

Dave Ballinger

Erie Canal Lodge named after Tom Grasso

IWI President Dave Ballinger reports:

I had the distinct pleasure to attend a commemoration ceremony in Rochester, N.Y. on Friday, June 22, 2012, where a new park building was named after our former president (and current vice-president) Tom Grasso.

In her speech Maggie Brooks, Monroe County Executive, hailed Tom Grasso as a ‘statewide leader in the preservation of the Erie Canal and […] strong advocate for revitalization efforts of the canal throughout our community. It is fitting that our County Park System’s newest lodge, which was inspired by structures found along the Erie Canal, will bear his name and honor his legacy’.

Cutting ribbon

Cutting the ribbon at the Erie Canal Lodge, Tom Grasso is accompanied by family and friends. County Executive Maggie Brooks is holding the ribbon (right)

There were many colleagues, family members and friends at the event under a sunny sky to see Tom and his grandchildren cut the ribbon. The lodge, for those not familiar with this type of building, is a multi-use building for rent that can accommodate up to 99 people. This particular building is the first of its kind in the Monroe County Park system to incorporate geothermal heating and cooling, while also providing air conditioning for summertime rentals. It also includes first-class amenities, such as a gas fireplace, stainless steel appliances and a covered outdoor area. The architectural design firm, Architectura P.C., recently won an AIA-Rochester design award for the lodge. The crowning piece of the lodge is the Canal boat weather vane on its peak.

Canal boat weather vane

Erie Canal Lodge weather vane, a passenger-carrying canal boat

Larry Staub, Monroe County’s Director of Parks. further defined the importance of the event and stated  that ‘having the new lodge named for Tom Grasso is a lasting tribute to a man who has devoted so much of his life to educating us about the Erie Canal and its importance to our community’s past, present and future’.

So IWI’s past president and Council member has been formally recognized in his community for his tireless work promoting and protecting the Erie Canal which is such a valuable resource to Rochester and New York State, and in turn an important contribution to the world of waterways and canals. Congratulations Tom and also Monroe County for recognizing the importance of its canal, its history and its citizens who are involved with the Canal.

Dave Ballinger

Erie Canal Lodge

The Thomas X. Grasso Erie Canal Lodge in Rochester, N.Y.

€200m to replant the Midi

A report commissioned by former prime minister François Fillon has delivered its verdict on the scale of works required to restore the Canal du Midi‘s priceless tree canopy. The 42,000 plane trees (82% of the trees lining the banks) are being decimated by canker stain. Despite a range of preventive measures and careful felling of the affected trees, the whole population of plane trees east of Carcassonne is practically condemned. VNF, managing this UNESCO world heritage site, developed a plan for regeneration in close collaboration with the Government’s High Commission on Sites and Landscapes (CSSP), but the report suggests intensifying the campaign to fell the diseased trees and replant resistant species throughout the length of the canal over a much shorter time-frame than initially envisaged: 10 years.

Chatillon Report Cover Photo

The immemorial landscape of the Canal du Midi lined by plane-trees features on the cover of the Chatillon report

The cost to covered over the 10 years is estimated at €200 million, and breaks down as follows:
• €79 M (just under 40%) for the tree felling (this concerns not only the trees lining the canal but also the bordering woodland areas; in all, 4000 trees to be cut down per year, with a dedicated staff of 64 tree surgeons),
• €44 M (22%) for replanting trees lining the canal, including 2 years of maintenance,
• €72M (36%) for bank protection works,
• €4M (2%) for preventive measures: research and development and protection of roots in the non-contaminated areas.
This evaluation does not include the costs of prospection, monitoring and trimming the trees as required over a period of 15 to 20 years to form the characteristic canopy.

New plane trees at Trebes

Newly planted plane trees at Trèbes, at intervals of 7m

The new report was commissioned from Haute-Garonne Senator Alain Chatillon, who is also the mayor of Revel, in the heart of the canal’s feeder system at the foot of the Montagne Noire.

The Government wanted a broader strategic view of the issues raised by the environmental disaster which sent a huge shock through all involved in managing the waterway.

The first conclusion is that both the tree felling and the replanting should be moved forward more rapidly. VNF is currently dealing with 300 trees per year.

But the Chatillon report seeks above all to justify the investment, to better define the canal’s values, to identify means of funding the works and to prepare for long-term governance of the waterway.

The socio-economic benefits of the canal through recreational use and tourism on the water and on the banks have been documented for many years, and are undisputed. But the rapporteur implies that there is inadequate ‘bundling’ of the canal into broader-based tourism products through the corridor, which should be considered like a ‘valley’.
He fears that transformation of the canal’s landscape will have a negative impact on the canal’s image and use in the coming years, and suggests that planning should start without delay, to adapt to the probable changes in visitor’s use patterns. He also feels that the canal’s parallel functions of irrigation and water supply should receive more strategic attention.

Funding the works – Chatillon suggests that one third of the cost should be covered by the State, one third by the regions (including EU funding and interregional cooperation projects supported by INTERREG), and the last third by corporate patronage. The State part could be achieved through an increase in the boat licences paid for the canal (an extra €200 000 per year) through VNF, and application of a visitor’s tax per night, as applied for hotel nights. More value should be extracted from properties within the canal’s estate, he suggests.

Corporate patronage incentives – Alain Chatillon sees considerable potential for attracting funds from the private sector. The UNESCO listing will give contributors worldwide visibility, and the population is genuinely attached to the canal through its history and as a tourism asset. Corporate patronage could be boosted by the tax reduction of 60% to be claimed on contributions. The tax rebate is even higher for individual contributions (66%).

Scenarios for developing patronage – The idea is eventually to create a trust, which could be part of a national heritage foundation. In the meantime, a public subscription offer could be set up to attract funds from the general public, while a club of canal patrons could be the first stage in promoting the principle of patronage, eventually leading to a strong patronage offer associated with the tasks of preserving and restoring the canal’s environmental and cultural heritage.

Canal marketing – Chatillon is convinced that the canal’s tourism-based economy can only survive if it is associated with a clearly identifiable mark, supported by a seal of approval (‘label’ in French). This is the only weak link in an otherwise well-structured and well-argumented report, because no orientation is suggested. Marketing initiatives taken by VNF and the three regions have to date produced limited results, especially at the international level. The information portal Rivières et Canaux du Midi does not even have an English version! This is European and regional funds poorly spent.

Three scenarios for future governance

Plane trees being felled

Plane trees being felled on the canal east of Carcassonne (photo P. Saliba, © Midi Libre)

The report examines three possible scenarios. The plane-tree replanting programme has highlighted the difficulty in taking measures with such a complex and multi-layered network of stakeholders, and a common structure is now increasingly urgent, not just on the Canal du Midi but throughout the ‘Deux Mers’ route and its connecting waterways.

Scenario 1 – VNF continues to manage the waterway. The partners sign a co-funding agreement for 15 years; in return, they are fully associated in the decision-making process, and have clearly defined tasks to perform. Complete transparency is essential for this approach to work, to ensure that the regions and the other stakeholders feel a genuine sense of ownership of the canal. This scenario has the advantage of avoiding any interruption in management, and being quick to implement.
Scenario 2 – A new structure is set up, such as a mixed economy corporation (‘Société d’Économie Mixte’) or a Public Interest Grouping (GIP), which would collect the public funding for the canal’s environmental functions: the tree-planting and water resources. This organisation, as project authority or ‘owner’ for the projects thus funded, possibly with VNF as contracting agency, would at last embody the effective cooperation among the three regions Aquitaine, Midi-Pyrénées and Languedoc-Roussillon.
Scenario 3 – The most ambitious scenario involves setting up an independent interregional body for development of the Canal des Deux Mers. This would have the strongest identity, and would be focused on local development, animation and enhancement of the canal. It would cover the three essential missions of a waterway authority:
- environmental (tree-planting and water resources),
- managing the waterway property and economic development,
- tourism development based on the ‘valley concept’ (on and around the water).
The funders would bring together all players wishing to be involved in these three fields of action, and would delegate their authority to a management body. The transfer of these responsibilities to an interregional agency has proved to be successful at a smaller scale. Our member the Entente Vallée du Lot is an example. This new entity would effectively coordinate the three missions, each performed by specific operators. This could be the new ‘founding act’ of the canal, just as the White Paper laid valid foundations, albeit with inadequate results, in 1996.

Senator-Mayor Alain Chatillon

Alain Chatillon, senator of Haute-Garonne, mayor of Revel, author of the report

Watch out for further information and updates on this issue of heritage canal governance which is critical for French waterways in general!



Our thanks to the Réseau Fluvial Toulousain for drawing our attention to the press conference.