they plead in favor of a livelier river, “the Rhine no longer exists”

Rund Um. For a long time, the Rhine killed the inhabitants of Alsace and sheltered thousands of fish. But that changed after it was straightened and, in particular, sewered in the 20th century. Two passionate scientists, Roland Carbiener and Laurent Schmitt, call for the revival of the river in a book.

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Festival of Lights 2022 in Lyon

To whom At the age of 92, Roland Carbiener still lives with the same passion for the Rhine that he used to visit with his father. They went there to fish several times a week: pike, perch, trout, dinner every Monday and Tuesday afternoon.

Roland Carbiener deciphers his youthful writings and repeats his catches and balance sheets, as if he needs proof to back up his memories. Because today it is hard to believe such an abundance. “The Rhine has become extremely poor”he swears.

The former fisherman, naturalist, professor emeritus of the University of Strasbourg and co-founder of Alsace Nature points out the canalization of the river in the book: living renWritten with Laurent Schmitt and published in December 2022. “We can no longer talk about the river, it has turned into a canal. The channel, which has the same water level throughout the year and is 6-8 meters deep above the dams, cannot shelter fish as before. became very poor, repeats again.

The Grand Canal d’Alsace was built over 160 kilometers from Basel to Lauterburg in the second half of the 20th century. Ten hydropower stations have been installed. They produce two-thirds of the electricity consumed in Alsace. Huge works that changed the landscape and life of the river.

“The effects of the straightening of the Rhine in the 19th century were already quite significant: the width of the small bed was reduced from one kilometer to 150 or 200 meters, the tributaries were narrowed… But the development of Tulla nevertheless retains a certain functionalityLaurent Schmitt, professor at the University of Strasbourg, geographer, hydrogeomorphologist and river management specialist, explains. The flood was still contained in the high water dykes on either side a kilometer or two from the main bed. On the other hand, with canalization, the alluvial functionality of the river has completely changed, and we have lost 130 square kilometers of the flood area.

The impact has greatly affected the functionality of the environment and the fish fauna. Gone are the days of natural floods and low waters that created biotopes of extraordinary richness and disrupted life around them. Fish have left the river: hydroelectric plants and their impenetrable dams have made migration impossible. Branch separation prevents movements outside the main bed, movements where the life cycle of the fish is important.

In their books, the authors sing an ode to the living Rhine. Roland Carbiener, a pioneer in the interdisciplinary study of large rivers, returns to the so-called “wild” Rhine to compile an inventory of its fish fauna over 20,000 years. Never seen before.

To whom Through his memoirs, he also recalls the close connection between the river and its inhabitants: “It attracted a lot of people, walkers, a few swimmers… There were restaurants all over the water. In the past there were hundreds of fishermen in some villages. Stopping at the bistro,” the non-genarian insists.

“Unser Rhin” (“our” Rhine) said the Alsatians until the middle of the last century. “We all talked about the Rhine, the fish we just caught and of course the Rhine forest. The river used to be a vector of communication between the people living in the neighboring villages, but today it no longer exists”he regrets it.

Roland Carbiener and Laurent Schmitt hope that they have created a basis for thinking about the future of the Rhine. According to them, the dynamics of restoring activities and processes that allow habitats and fish richness to be restored as much as possible are important.

Especially since these measures allow mitigating climate change, as functional alluvial forests are effective carbon sinks. In France, this program is available under the Living Rhine plan. The old weapons have now been reintegrated and the areas flooded again.

“Restoring these environments makes them even more humid. Regular flooding of the Rhine occurs in late spring-early summer, June-July, during increasingly frequent heat waves. This allows good conditions. Evaporation in the forest. And “This well-functioning forest is cooled. During heat waves, this bioclimatic effect of restored, well-watered alluvial forests plays a very important role.”Laurent Carbiener assures.

Job living ren (featuring scientist and alluvial forest expert Annick Schnitzler) intends to make a historic testimony as a plea to revive the world’s largest Atlantic salmon river. A very nice book of about 300 pages, illustrated by photographers Gérard Lacoumette and Serge Dumont and documented with engravings, drawings, iconography or even old maps, aimed at both the informed public and enthusiasts.

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