French Omelet

Steve's picture

The French Riviera enjoys a wonderful climate. No surprise that all those movie stars, sports heroes, and super models hang out in places like Monaco, Nice, Cannes and Fréjus.   OK --  maybe not so many rich and famous spend time in Fréjus, but it is the setting for today’s blog, so bear with me.

One price paid for pleasant Côte d’Azur weather, apart from astronomical housing prices, is water, or lack thereof.  Seasonal rains and stream flow have beleaguered the area for thousands of years. The Romans constructed aqueducts to bring water to their Fréjus way back when.  

In the 1940’s, the new idea was to dam the Reyran River 7 km northeast to collect water and pipe it the rest of the way into town.  Now, the Reyran River is ephemeral. That is, bone dry most of the time, occasionally transformed to torrent.  A planned dam had to meet the boom and bust storage conditions and the modest budget of the builders.  It was decided that a concrete arch dam would best fit the bill. Unlike massive earth-fill gravity dams, concrete arch designs require far less material and can be fabricated faster.  Work started in 1952 and in some ways Reyran aided construction. The foundation and lower levels were built when the River ran dry. No need for expensive cofferdams and river diversions that are the norm elsewhere.  On the other hand, the river’s fickle flow made orderly filling and leak testing impossible. In fact, after it was finished in 1954 the thing sat half empty for five years waiting for rain.

Truth be said, “Malpasset Dam” was a sculptured beauty, curving across the 200 m gap.  Like a super model, the structure was tall (60 m) and astonishingly slender, only 6.7 meters thick at the bottom and 1.5 meters wide at the top! --- an egg shell purely speaking.

Well, you can guess the end of this story.  In 1959, powerful winter storms struck and the reservoir quickly filled to capacity for the first time.  At 9:15 PM, December 2nd, the egg shell basically blew apart, unleashing a fatal flood through the valley, town and fields below.

I’ve never been there, but I understand that Fréjus has recovered nicely in the 50+ years since those events. I imagine that the town folk are entirely content to have those rich and famous frequent other places down the coast, and leave the locals to enjoy their wonderful, but dam-less, environment in peace and quiet.

Steven N. Ward   Santa Cruz


baileyshaw437's picture

You are right, you never know that when or where disaster will happen because nature is unpredictable and you never know when it comes. 

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