Taming the torrent: changes in flood protection at the Gürbe River (Switzerland) from the nineteenth century until today
This paper analyses the flood protection history of the Gürbe River (Switzerland), a 29-km-long tributary of the Aare River. The upper reach of the river has the character of a mountain torrent and an exceptionally difficult flooding situation. For centuries, riparian communities were only able to take small protective measures. In the mid-nineteenth century, the flood protection strategy changed: between 1855 and 1881, the Gürbe River was channelised and stabilised by a torrent control system.
... Although the situation improved, flood damage could not be prevented as intended. Therefore, dozens of consecutive projects were implemented-without interruption until today. This paper examines why small watercourses are useful case studies, which protection measures were taken at the Gürbe River, how they corresponded to the prevailing flood protection philosophy, whether they were linked to floods and how flood protection influenced land use. The Gürbe regulation, its consecutive projects and the connected drainages had far-reaching effects: They allowed an intensive agricultural use of the valley floor, the construction of roads, a railway, and new settlements. Consequently, the social and economic pressure on the hazard area increased steadily over the decades. It created a vicious circle: the more that protective structures were built, the more important and profitable flood prevention became, and the more structures were raised. A reevaluation finally took place in the late twentieth century, based on increasing environmental awareness, and fostered by a catastrophic flood. However, the implementation of new projects proved to be difficult due to conflicting interests.