Interesting facts 

This is why the Suonen are considered the lifelines of the Valais

The water canals, pipes or Suonen, in French “bisses”  cross the country like blood vessels a human body. Today they still have a length of approximately 2000 km. Most of them were constructed 900 to 1000 years ago. Whether copied from North Africa, as often said, or self-invented: necessity is the mother of invention - especially when it comes to compensate the lack of rain. Water though is abundant in the glacier area of the Valais, but unfortunately for people it is found at the wrong places, almost inaccessible in deeply carved rivers' gorges. The Suonen make the water useable to people. And as dream paths they open up the unique Valais natural and cultural landscapes.

 

In many Valais landscapes the Suonen are like hyphen: in late summer, when the rocky steppes dry up and become yellow, the meadows and pastures beneath the Suonen glow in a deep green due to the irrigation. The Suonen water is particularly suitable for watering for two reasons: the glaciers' water carries a considerable amount of minerals and suspended matters, such as phosphorus, chalk, potassium and magnesium salts. It is a true natural fertilizer. Oxygen is brought by the air and warmth by the sun on the southern slopes. On its long way through meadows and along rock faces the glacier water warms up a few degrees and reduces so the cold shock for flowers and grasses. In this way the traditional irrigation and its soft methods together with a late grass cut of the meadows enhance the biological diversity and give the Valais cultural landscape its inestimable value up today. 

The glaciers' water carried by the Suonen made people's life easier especially before the mechanisation: its force drove saw mills and grain mills and facilitated the house construction. The hydropower grinded the flour of which the rye bread was baked. But also the modern irrigation plants with their water guns have finally a beneficial impact: the farming is still made easier and the Suonen keep their function.

Suonen protect the landscape: they provide water for their surrounding and avoid the erosion on the valleys' slopes in keeping them covered with vegetation. In case of forest fires their water is used to fight the flames. The up keeping of old water canals is since the 1980's a condition in the Canton of Valais for the approval of new modern irrigation plants. Only natural materials are allowed for their maintenance.