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[BLOG] The Battle for Water

How can an entire village go thirsty opposite the snow-capped peaks of Entremont, whose valleys are home to three generous rivers, each named “La Dranse”? 03-08-2018 10:00
[BLOG] The Battle for Water-41854

How can a village be short of water at the summit of the Alps, the water tower of Europe? The answer lies in the capricious geology of the Pierre Avoi massif. Its tortuous and folded layers of limestone divert meltwater and rain in all directions – except towards Le Levron, a village that is separated from the Verbier basin by the steep course of the muddy “Le Merdenson” torrent. As in many villages on the right bank of the Rhône in the 15th century, the residents of Le Levron had to make long journeys, pickaxes and spades in hand, to find water in the Mont-Fort region. They dug a canal from La Chaux across the entire Verbier basin, giving it just enough of a slope for the water to drain.

This was met with dismay by the residents of Sarreyer, whose village was situated downstream and was irrigated by one of the tributary streams. Desperate to retain the water they needed to irrigate their fields, the people of Sarreyer headed up the mountain on several occasions to destroy the bisse irrigation canal’s water intake...which the residents of Le Levron promptly repaired. In 1492, the people of Le Levron turned to the supreme authority of the Bishop of Sion, Jodoc de Silinen, asking him to grant a decree guaranteeing them water rights and calling the residents of Sarreyer to order. The various exploits involved in building and maintaining the Verbier and Le Levron bisses are faithfully described in a book entitled Bataille pour L’Eau. [1] With its canal now back in working order, the bisse runs gently along the heights of Verbier under the name of the “Bisse de Verbier” and makes for a pleasant walk along the waterside until it reaches the area known as “la chute du bisse”, where its flow suddenly cascades into the Merdenson torrent below. So was all that work for nothing? Was this precious water channelled here, only to be lost in the scree?

No. The most onerous phase of the canal’s maintenance occurred several hundred metres below, where a period of continuous digging allowed the water to be collected after it cascaded into the scree. The residents of Le Levron worked day after day until they were finally able to channel the precious water into their parched fields.

Nowadays, the water collected in La Chaux is channelled through a long pipe buried under the road that crosses the entire Verbier basin at an altitude of 2,000 metres. A stretch of level ground makes the trail accessible for pushchairs and mountain bikes between La Chaux, Les Ruinettes, La Croix de Coeur, La Tournelle and the foot of the Pierre Avoi, where a tunnel runs underneath the Merdenson and emerges at the Col du Lein. The path between La Chaux and La Croix de Cœur is almost completely level, and is enlivened by sculptures, creations and exhibitions by various international artists working under the aegis of the Fondation 3D, an organisation that is close to the heart of sculptor Kiki Thompson.

 

Not far from the bisse’s source where the torrent meanders beneath the magnificent, marsh-like plain of Patiéfray, you will even see the bisse crossing the Sarreyer torrent over a stone bridge. For once, the water is the one taking the bridge!



[1] Bataille pour l’eau by Clément Bérard, published by Éditions Monographic



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Verbier Tourist Office
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1936 Verbier
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