Traditional Irrigation and its Importance to the Tourist Landscape of Valais, Switzerland
The contemporary landscape of the Central and Haut Valais, Switzerland, is partially a product of the ancient but extant bisse irrigation system. The current principal conduit network extends for approximately 760 kilometres, whilst the distribution network stretches for over 25 000 kilometres. Both systems have had a major impact on the Valaisan landscape. Besides this, traditional distribution techniques (ruissellement) have also altered dramatically the landscape of specific locations in the Valais. The contribution of bisses to the local milieu has been recognized by the federal, cantonal and communal governments. All three levels of government have provided incentives to farmers and local irrigation institutions to conserve traditional farming practices where appropriate and protect traditional methods of irrigation. This paper describes the landscape impact of traditional and modern irrigation practices and the instruments available for protecting these practices. It also appraises the success of these interventions and examines what future role bisses might play in protecting the current agricultural landscape, which has become so crucial to the success of summer tourism.