The construction of the Castillon dam was not done in a single day. The first dam built on the Verdon, the Castillon dam, opened the door to several decades of work on the course of the emerald river. No less than five dams were built at the end of the 1970s.
The beginnings of the construction of Castillon dam
At the end of the 19th century, the need for drinking water but also for irrigation led to the idea of building dams on the Verdon. Thus, in 1900, a first project with the creation of two lakes was presented. One upstream of Castellane, that of Castillon. The other one downstream of Castellane, that of Carajuan. The project of Carajuan, which was to form a reserve of 400 million cubic meters of water, was finally abandoned. Even today, some remnants of the project can be seen. The few iron bars and riprap at Carajuan are evidence of this. Without the abandonment of this project, white water activities would never have existed in this valley.
The construction of Castillon dam with the SHEV
In 1921 the SHEV (Société Hydroélectrique du Verdon) was founded. Two years later, in 1923, a government law imposed the creation of water reservoirs on the Verdon in order to support its low water level during the summer. In 1928, the SHEV won by decree the concession of the Castillon dam and the Chaudanne dam. After the First World War, the Treaty of Versailles imposed war reparations to France on Germany. The SHEV was therefore helped in the construction of this first dam by these repair efforts.
Thus, in 1929, it is the German company Verdonbau which with not less than one thousand two hundred workers including eight hundred Germans will begin the work. All the materials necessary for the construction were imported from Germany. A real workers’ town was built to house this population, which was almost as large as that of Castellane. Workers who worked a lot and also needed to relax. Bars, dance halls and houses with clauses appeared at the same time.
Three years later, in 1932, the SHEV went bankrupt. When Hitler came to power, he quickly withdrew the war reparation efforts allocated to France. Only one guard was kept on duty. A German in charge of keeping an eye on the construction site on standby. In spite of this, in 1936, a fire broke out on part of the site. This incident destroyed the crushers used to make cement. An act of sabotage was suspected but not proven.
The construction of Castillon dam with EELM
In 1938, EELM (Energies Electriques du Litoral Méditerranéen) took over the concession of Castillon and Chaudanne. At first, due to a lack of funds, EELM continued to provide a supervisory role. It was not until 1941 that a timid resumption of work was observed. Indeed, only two years after the French debacle, in the middle of the occupation, the country lacks everything. Of manpower as of materials. It is only with about sixty workers and some public credits that the works continue.
At the liberation, in 1945, the works of the dam start again quickly. Some sources speak of 2200 workers, other sources mention 3000 workers. The contingent of 800 German workers also returned, this time as prisoners of war. There were no less than 20 different nationalities working on the site at that time! A multicultural revolution for Castellane.
The CNR (National Council of the Resistance), planned to nationalize at the liberation, the means of production, transport and distribution of energy. Thus, EDF (Electricité De France) was created by the law of April 8, 1946. From that moment on, EDF naturally took charge of the construction of the Castillon dam.
The work went on at full speed. However, they were disturbed by a slight sabotage on February 19, 1947. This had no consequences for the rest of the work. In fact, February 28, 1948 was the day of the inauguration. For the occasion, a symbolic watering of the dam was carried out. The water rose slowly and gradually engulfed the existing structure. This is how the village of Castillon was buried. Before that, the cemetery was moved.
On June 18, 1948, the electric production was launched. In July 1949, the lake reached its maximum level of 880 NGF.