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Environment and History

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Environment and History

Two Canals, Two Barrages and the Remnants of a River: Nature and Technology Along the Eider, Schleswig-Holstein's Longest River

Eike-Christian Heine

Environment and History 23 (2017): 253-283. doi: 10.3197/096734017X14900292921770

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The construction of the Eider Canal (build between 1774 and 1784) and especially of the Kiel Canal (1886–1895) had severe consequences for the river Eider. Most notably a vicious circle was generated whose main elements were growing sedimentation, the growing impact of the North Sea tides far upstream and increasingly catastrophic floods. After decades of planning, a tidal barrage began operating in 1938. Instead of bringing relief to the suffering residents it only deepened the crisis. Sedimentation increased even more until sand clogged the riverbed almost completely. The devastating storm flood of 1962 mobilised political and financial support to realise a plan engineers had been developing since the early twentieth century. Between 1967 and 1973 the Eider was dammed off in the estuary and a floodgate today controls the river's hydrology.

The Eider was once Schleswig-Holstein's longest river. Today it has become a collection of disconnected watercourses. The article understands the river's history as a story of escalation: building projects (canals, dykes and a tidal barrage) along the Eider's banks had unintended ecological consequences. Lacking a clear understanding of hydrology, new constructions did not help, but only caused new complications. It is also a story with a distinct ending, as the Eider Barrage of 1973 subjects the river to technological control.

KEYWORDS: Water engineering, flood control, unexpected ecological consequences

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