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Parts of French canals closed to boats due to low water level

Rivers remain largely navigable because of damming techniques, but the water level is low

Some French canals have been closed to boats because of low water levels Pic: trabantos / Shutterstock

Rivers in France remain navigable despite the drought affecting much of the country but some canals have been partially closed due to low water levels. 

Cécile Avezard of Voies navigables de France, which is responsible for managing the majority of the country’s inland waterways, said: “In spite of the drought it is possible to travel without too many difficulties” on rivers. 

“We are managing to maintain the water line thanks to our efforts, which mainly involve damming systems.

“It is in this way that the Seine and Rhône-Saône river basins and the basin which serves the port of Dunkirk are still navigable for the moment. 

She added that the passage of boats is “limited” on the Rhine, because damming measures are not in place on the German side. “The water goes to the sea more quickly and the water levels are lower. 

“It is still possible to sail through, but the water line is lower, the draught is reduced. This means that boats are obliged to only carry a third of their capacity to be able to pass through the whole network. 

Ms Avezard added that some canals are “closed” as these waterways “are much more dependent on the pluviometer”. 

“There are areas where we have been obliged to close [the canal] to boats because the draught is insufficient or because there are other water uses which take priority and mean that we cannot take water from the natural environment to maintain the water level.

“This might be for drinking water in Nancy, for example, or for irrigation, or for tourism.” 

The canals which have been closed include: 

  • The Vosges canal

  • A section of the canal between Champagne and Bourgogne 

  • A section of the Meuse canal 

“On our canals, we are really trying to save water as much as possible, for example by collecting the lockage to limit water loss. 

“There are a certain number of canals which are quite popular with tourist traffic, on which we ask users to move in a group.” 

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