Die erste Juragewässerkorrektion. Bild: Amt für Wasser und Abfall (AWA, Kanton Bern).

Swiss Water Management

Swiss engineers can not only drill tunnels and build railways but are also canal diggers, dyke builders and excellent water managers.

Nidau, Richard la Nicca (1794-1883). Photo: TES


Seeland and the big marsh (das Grosse Moor/ le grand marais) is the region in the Three-Lakes-Region (Drei-Seen-Land/le Pays des Trois Lacs), the lakes of Neuchâtel (Neuenburg), Bienne (Biel) and Morat (Murten), and stretches across the cantons of Bern, Freiburg, Solothurn, Waadt and Neuchâtel.

The lakes and rivers

After the last Ice Age (around 12 000 years ago), a lake stretched over 100 kilometres from Yverdon-les-Bains (canton of Vaud) to Solothurn. The rivers Aare, Emme and Zihl (Thielle in French) crossed this region and caused many floods.

The water management

From the beginning of the 18th century, engineers made plans to limit this flooding. However, the technical possibilities were still too limited. The Industrial Revolution in the nineteenth century created new opportunities.

Moreover, the new Swiss Confederation of 1848 was authorised to finance cross border cantonal projects. The regulation of water management concerned the five cantons mentioned above.

La Correction des Eaux du Jura/Juragewässerkorrektion

The so-called Jura water correction (La Correction des Eaux du Jura/Juragewässerkorrektion) occurred in two stages.

The engineer Richard La Nicca (1794-1883) developed the first project (1868 to 1891).

The Aare was diverted into Lake Biel by digging a canal between Aarberg and Hagneck (1 in the picture). In addition, three other canals were dug: the Canal La Broye (3) between Lake Morat and Lake Neuchâtel, the Canal Zihl (Thielle, 2) between Lake Bienne and Lake Neuchâtel and the Canal Nidau-Büren (4 on the illustration), which regulated the Aare from Büren to Lake Bienne.

The Emme was excluded from the project. Figure 5 shows the area of Seeland.

The Aare was the primary source of concern. The river transported more water than the Swiss Rhine. The water level of the lakes was lowered by several metres due to these projects. It created new agricultural, natural and recreational areas in this region.

Even the island (île St. Peter/St. Petersinsel) in the Bielersee/lac de Bienne, the residence of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) in 1765, became a peninsula due to the lowering of the water level.

St. Peter Isle/St. Peter Insel. Photo: TES

In addition, at the end of the nineteenth century, one of Europe’s first hydroelectric works, the BKW (Bernisch Kraftwerke), was built near Hagneck.


The new water management system’s focal point was the Aare regulation. The water-permeable Dam of Port (Regulierwehr Port/Barrage de régulation) in the Nidau-Büren Canal is the central point of attention of the project.
This major work includes a lock (Schiffsschleusse Port/Ecluse de Port), a road connection between Brügg and Port and later, a hydroelectric power station (Wasserkraftwerk Brügg/Centrale hydroélectrique de Brügg).

Hagneck Channel. Photo: TES.

However, there were still some floods. The second water correction was carried out between 1962 and 1973. This project included the construction of the Flumenthal hydropower plant on the Aare beyond Solothurn and the expansion, deepening and widening of the Hagneck, Broye, Zihl and Nidau-Büren canals.

The power plants, locks and dams were also modernised at the end of the 20th century. In addition, a new hydropower plant for generating electricity was built in the Nidau-Büren canal.

Today, the central regulation of the water levels in the three lakes and the Dam of Port is carried out from Bern (Regulierzentrale/ Centrale de Régulation). From here, the three lakes’ water levels and the River Aare regulation are monitored.

Today, the region is the most fertile area for agriculture and the country’s leading supplier of fruit and vegetables. In addition, several nature reserves have been created on the banks of the lakes, including on the southern shore of Lake Neuchâtel. The area has been made suitable for tourism and its facilities.

Hydroelectric power plant Hagneck. Photo: TES.


The water management of the three lakes and the rivers Aare, Emme and Zihl has been the subject of various projects since 1868. Differing, sometimes conflicting, interests in shipping, fishing, landscape and nature conservation, agriculture and safety for the inhabitants also played a role.

Despite these human interventions, nature proved stronger in the summer of 2021. The floods were not nearly as devastating as before these interventions, and the control mechanisms worked, but they call for modesty concerning the power of nature.

This water management has consequences for other areas, such as the Brienz and Thun lakes and the Aare’s further course, which flows into the Rhine at the Swiss town of Koblenz (canton of Aargau).

The Gotthard tunnels are widely known. However, these great ‘Delta Works’ of the Alps deserve attention.

(Source and further information: Besucherzentrum Wasserkraftwerk Hagneck,www.bielerseekraftwerke.ch; Schlossmuseum Nidau, www.schlossmuseumnidau.ch).