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.

Lot restoration progress in 2012


In the earlier post on the river Lot we mentioned the elimination of Escambous lock in the navigable length centred on Puy-l’Évêque. This means dredging and rock-blasting to eliminate the weir beside this lock, to provide a navigable channel. The département Lot is now carrying out these works under a four-month contract, at a cost of €750 000. Dredging is also needed in the Floiras and Castelfranc reaches. In all, 5000 m3 of rock and sediment will be cleared to make the channel. Another €1.8m contract for restoration of the 17th century Floiras Lock is nearing completion. The lock-gates are being installed and the lock will be operational this autumn. These works will add about 10km to this navigable secion of the Lot, to make a total of 40 km. Complementary dredging in the Orgueil reach will be undertaken in 2013 to ensure navigability through to Fumel dam.

Canals cross EU eastern borders

In just a few years, three bottlenecks on the eastern borders of the European Union will have been removed, thanks in part to the persistent efforts of many organisations working together, campaigning and lobbying for canals, waterways and inland navigation.

First to be completed was the restoration of the Augustowski Canal in Poland and its continuation in Belarus’ through to the Neman river, opened in 2009. The second, long-awaited, development is the construction of a permanent lock in Brest-Litovsk at the western end of the Dnieper-Bug Canal (see map in header).

Mukhovets River in Brest © Google Earth

The lock will replace the weir bypass on the left bank (bottom of this view, © Google Earth) with its two earth dams

This lock should replace in 2012 the temporary earth dam structure which for many years blocked through navigation to Poland’s Bug River. Finally, the canalised river Bega will be opened from the Tisa in Serbia through to Timosoara in Romania; again work is in progress on restoration of the first lock in Romania.

Our exhibition From Limerick to Kiev: Waterways for Tomorrow’s Europe contributed to promotion of these projects by showing in 2003/2004* how an integrated European waterway network is a concern for tourism and long-distance recreational boating, just as it is a concern for industrial and economic development through inland water transport. The exhibition map and panels were also shown at the boat lift at Strépy-Thieu in Belgium in 2004, and at a session of the Working Party on Inland Waterways at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe in Geneva.

Boatowners have for long been planning long-distance cruises throughout the continent, as shown by this planning map for the cruise of a lifetime from Paris to Moscow, Perm and Arkhangelsk.

A complementary issue is that of regulations for crossing that eastern border (or ‘internal border’ in the case of Serbia-Romania); discussions are in progress and outline agreements have been reached, one having been signed recently in Warsaw by Poland and Belarus’, but in practice there are still substantial administrative hurdles to overcome. Such cruises have now become feasible, at least in terms of reglementation, since the Russian Federation passed a law on May 25th allowing foreign recreational boats to use its inland waterways.

Waterway route to the Urals and the White Sea

The route planned by Richard Parsons with Xanthos

* first in Grenoble, for the 10th anniversary of foundation of Euromapping, then in October 2004 at the European Parliament building in Brussels; the partners for that operation were IWI, the Alliance Internationale de Tourisme, the European Boating Association, DBA The Barge Association and ICOMIA

Filling gaps on the river Lot

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.

Floiras lock

Restoration work in progress at Floiras lock (by KBW)

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.

Navigable river Lot upstream

Status of navigable river Lot - upstream section - from Cahors to Port d'Agrès

Erie Canal in downtown Rochester NY

Former IWI president Tom Grasso has been campaigning for eight years to bring back to life the enlarged (1842) Erie Canal in downtown Rochester, NY. The World Canals Conference was held here for the second time in September 2010. ‘The event took us a dramatic and profound step forward in terms of raising awareness of the Erie Canal’s potential today, its robustly storied past and the iconic 1842 aqueduct in downtown, for both the general public and the international assembly of delegates.’

‘The evening reception in the aqueduct, the “Dinner in the Ditch”, made a lasting impact. It still echoes in the community. Thanks to our sponsors, partners, and hard work of the planning committee the WCC was a world-class act of the highest caliber in program, content, and social events. Today we should build on the conference’s success and keep the momentum.

Artist's impression of the Erie Canal aqueduct over the Genesee River after restoration

‘We must not let the lessons learned and the ideas discussed wither and die. Now is the time to consider our City’s future while building upon the past. We need to use this opportunity to leverage other urban waterway development initiatives from around the world, not just our old Erie Canal and aqueduct.

‘Consider our history: America’s first inland boom in the early years was fueled by the construction of the Erie Canal. If not for the canal, Rochester would not be what it is today. The mid-1800s expansion of the second Erie Canal, the Enlarged Erie, through the City created the 1842 aqueduct (Broad Street Bridge) that still stands today, the only intact old Erie Canal urban aqueduct on the system.

‘By the early 20th century Rochester had outgrown the canal and when the fourth Erie Canal was completed in 1918 it took an end run around the city and the old canal bed was converted into a subway by roofing over the canal trench with Broad Street. The subway operated from c.1925 to 1956 when it too faded into oblivion.

‘The projected rewatering is all about turning historical features into engines of economic revitalization. Cities around the world have restored or are planning to restore their historic waterways: in Korea, Japan, China, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, England, Denmark,… North America is no exception as waterway projects, bristling with successful economic revitalization, have been completed in a number of cities: in Montreal, Oklahoma City, Providence, and San Antonio. The fact that water restoration projects have been successful in so many different countries proves that it is a cross-cultural phenomenon and a primal basic instinct uniting all of humanity: attraction to water.

‘Rochester decision-makers are unable to commit to major public investments in the current climate. Yet developers know that waterfront property is more valuable; there are no substitutes for waterways in urban settings as engines of economic revitalization and regeneration. Imagine what it would be like to live, walk or eat dinner right next to the water on Broad Street, as you can do in Pittsford or Fairport. A waterway with boats and a wide promenade is a magnet for housing, shops and restaurants, bringing new jobs.

‘Canal Development is a proven money-maker; the British have made significant investments in canals to revitalize urban areas. In his book Britain’s Restored Canals, Roger Squires points to restoration as a catalyst for economic growth : over $12 billion equivalent has been derived from canal redevelopment.

‘To keep this project alive, we must keep up the pressure, but it is a constant struggle. An overwhelming majority of the delegates at the 2010 conference urged us to continue bringing the old Erie Canal to life again through downtown Rochester. We have received messages of support from the Chairman of British Waterways, and Jim Stirling, engineer, who led the BW team that built that the Falkirk Wheel in Scotland and restored the two canals that the Wheel united. He stated in the September 24th 2010 issue of the Democrat & Chronicle that a canal brought back to life is a like a magnet that draws people and businesses such as pubs, marinas, as well as light commercial developments and residences.

‘This economic model can work in a city like Rochester! Magical canal and waterway restorations have converted a no-go industrial canal wasteland in Oklahoma City, virtually nothing but a streetscape, into something wonderful and really special. We in Rochester also have the opportunity to accomplish something truly exceptional but with the added value of brand-name recognition. Restoration of the iconic old Erie Canal will have a robust economic impact on the downtown Historic Old Erie Canal District corridor and the city as a whole. Canal history has handed us a gift : we have, cradled in our hands, an enormous opportunity to achieve something truly special. Who among us can envisage consciously taking something so special and, in direct contrast to Oklahoma City, transforming it into absolutely nothing?

‘Now we have set up the World Canals Conference 2020 Planning Committee. We know that we will be in competition with other host countries and cities. But our ambition is to host the event in the year 2020 to inaugurate either the construction of or the grand opening of a fully re-watered old Erie Canal into downtown Rochester. The Committee plans to consign to history a century of wanton neglect, and to celebrate in 2020 the complete revival of Erie’s water downtown, as an engine of economic revitalization.’

(Interview with Tom Grasso in May 2011)