Dam Removals in France

The removal of dams and weirs has been happening for centuries. Since the 90’s a few countries have increased this tendency. USA has already removed more than 1,300 dams (American Rivers, 2017). However, what very few people know is that in Europe there have been over 4,500 barriers demolished already. Dam Removal Europe is investigating in all European continent the obstacles that have been removed until nowadays and the findings are incredible.

In France, first dam removal started in 1996 with the removed of 3 larges dams (Kernansquillec, Saint-Etienne-du-Vigan and Maisons-Rouges) as a result of a long civil mobilization by Loire Vivante to save the Loire River. Since 2010 the AFB (L’Agence française pour la biodiversité – National Agency part of the French Ministry of Environment) has been working to have the most complete inventory of the world on obstacles in French rivers, and the last update (1st of January of 2017) shows they have over 90,000 obstacles (all types of obstacles), where 70,000 of them are weirs and dams (Figure 1). In addition to this amazing effort, Ministry of Environment along with the 102 DDTs (Direction Départementale des Territoires – Local Land Management Organizations) as the project to creating a database with all dams removed which they are aware of. The exact number is not yet known, but compiling different records from DDTs we have found that France is the world’s leader in removing abandoned dams or not in use anymore, with more than 2,300 obstacles naturally or artificially removed. In this moment, Dam Removal Europe and ERN France is working on this dam removal inventory.

Map showing more than 90,000 obstacles in France

Figure 1: Map showing more than 90,000 obstacles in France. Source: Anguille européenne: les efforts engagés par la France pour réduire les causes de mortalité et reconstituer le stock.

Moreover, ONEMA (the previous organization to AFB) produced a PDF of 4 pages for many of the dams and weirs removed in France, summarizing many of the dams and weirs removed. These documents explain very nicely and in detail all about the project itself: location of the obstacle, characteristics of the obstacle, reasons for removal, opportunities to act, who paid for the project, who was the owner, direct contact for the project, etc. Below, we highlight some of these projects on Natura2000 sites with the direct link to these PDFs.

Removal of the Fatou dam on the Baume River (Loire-Bretagne River Basin, October 2007)

Removal of the Kernansquillec dam over the River Léguer (Loire-Bretagne River Basin, Septembe 1996)

Removal of twenty small structures of River Couasnon (Loire-Bretagne River Basin, June 2006)

Restoration of the river continuity on the Touques Basin (Seine-Normandie River Basin, 1980)


In addition, for French cases, we have picked a 32mins video (with English subtitles) about the EU LIFE+ “Continuité écologique” project done in two regional nature parks, Morvan and Ballons des Vosges. In this project, 5 full weir removals and 5 partial weir removals took place among other actions. During this video, you will also see very nice educational drawings, which show how a river functions and the impacts of a dam on a river. You can watch the video below.

Finally, we would like to highlight 3 future projects in France that will be of enormous importance:

  • The removal of two dams, La-Roche-qui-Boit Dam (16m hight) and the Vézin Dam (36m high), in the Sélune River. These two dam removals will have a huge impact also in the scientific world, because it is been done a 6 years pre-removal study and it will be done a 10 years post-removal study. You can read all about the scientific research program here.


  • The new Poutès Dam (18m high), which will be lowered to 4 m high, with new gates and a new fishway. To read more about, you can click here.
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