«History of Swiss Water Protection since 1800»

The water timeline visualizes the dynamic history of Swiss water management over the last 200 years by presenting roughly 200 milestones based on images, text and sound. The project aims to demonstrate how technological, social and ecological changes interact in transformations towards sustainable development, and under what conditions paradigm shifts in our use of natural resources become possible. The project team hopes to spark the interest of a broad audience, and to make the timeline a key input to broader dialogues on sustainable development in the water sector and related contexts. The water timeline will be continuously updated and improved. We look forward to receiving your comments and suggestions!

How can we use and manage natural resources in a more sustainable way?

This question stands at the core of many social, political and scientific debates around how we can reach the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to which Switzerland has also committed. The targets are ambitious, and there is a growing consensus that  rapid and extensive structural change is needed in various sectors at once. However, how transformations emerge, which socio-political, technical and ecological processes affect them and whether and how these can be steered towards increasing sustainability, remain widely and controversially discussed questions.

In the research and communication project "History of Swiss Water Protection since 1800", a team from the department of Environmental Social Sciences at Eawag has documented an example of a long-term transformation process. Based on specific events, the water timeline guides visitors through the past, and demonstrates how the management of Swiss water bodies has been gradually transformed into the direction of sustainable development. Although water management in Switzerland still faces major challenges such as the loss of biodiversity, habitat fragmentation or micropollutants, great progress has been made in various respects since the 1950s. The timeline provides exciting details, links to further information and illustrates how the interaction between technology, politics, society and ecology is shaping transformations towards sustainable development.

Inspiration for sustainable management of natural resources

The main aim of the project is to illustrate under which conditions transformations towards sustainable development become possible. Even though the lessons derived from water management cannot be transferred one-on-one to other societal challenges such as climate change or biodiversity loss, the case study still provides key insights on how profound, structural change arises. In the case of Swiss water management, the complex interaction between visionary individuals, organizations, technical progress, research, shifts in public awareness and related political actions led to several paradigm shifts in how we deal with our water bodies. By illustrating these developments in an open and accessible way, the water timeline project aims at inspiring political and academic circles to translate key lessons from the timeline when promoting transformations toward sustainable development in other sectors. Overall, we thus hope to contribute to a deepened dialogue between different actors in the field of sustainability based on lessons from the dynamic transformation process in Swiss water management.

The project is based on interviews with key experts within the Swiss water sector. In addition to the interviews, extensive literature reviews and a compilation of historical sources served as the foundation for the timeline's content. Pictures and videos illustrate individual events. The complete lists of literature and image sources are available for download in PDF format.


We would like to thank the interviewed experts for their input and knowledge that substantially contributed to the project:

Francis Berdat, Water supply expert

Ueli Bundi, Former director of Eawag

Andri Bryner, Media officer at Eawag

Willi Gujer, Professor emeritus of Urban Water Management at ETH Zurich

Stefan Hasler, Director VSA

Max Maurer, Head of the Urban Water Management Department (SWW) at Eawag

Armin Peter, Aquatic ecologist & fish biologist of FishConsulting GmbH

Christian Stamm, Deputy Head of the Environmental Chemistry Department (Uchem) at Eawag

Luca Vetterli, Water expert at the central steering board of Pro Natura

Stefan Vollenweider, Managing Director of Water Agenda 21

Christine Weber, Group Leader River Revitalization of the SURF department at Eawag

Bernhard Wehrli, Group Leader Aquatic Chemistry of the SURF department at Eawag

We aim at further developing the project in the future: We invite all interested individuals to share suggestions for additional events or actors that have shaped Swiss water protection measures. Please visit "Your Input" for sharing your insights with us.

Literature & Image Sources

Letzte Änderung: 29.03.2022