Ponds and lakes

A former pumping station at Belle-Hautière.
View across the Bois-Joalland lake.
Almost hidden: the Belle-Hautière pond.

In deep water

If Saint-Nazaire is surrounded by water, the town nevertheless faced big problems for the supply of drinking water when it expanded rapidly in the second half of the 19th century. Neither the water from the Loire river, containing too much salt, nor the water from the nearby Brière marshes was fit for human consumption, and there was hardly a water-table to speak of. In the beginning, when there were only a few hundred inhabitants, private wells and some public fountains were enough. But as from the 1850’s, once the harbour was built and Saint-Nazaire was booming, the situation changed dramatically. Around 1880, there already were 13,000 inhabitants, and the needs for freshwater were enormous. The townspeople needed drinking water, and both industry and the steam engines of modern ships also engulfed huge amounts of freshwater.

In the 1880’s there still was no regular and safe supply of drinking water: water was sold from barrels wheeled around town on carts, while small tankers brought the precious liquid from far away to Saint-Nazaire. In order to collect rain water, artificial ponds were created in natural basins. This is how the Guindreff and Belle-Hautière lakes came into being. Unfortunately this did not entirely resolve the problem, as soiled waters from nearby farms and pastures seeped into the lakes. The question of collecting and treating water became so crucial that in 1909, the town council publicly reprimanded the mayor and some of the town’s engineers!

After massive works, the ponds of Québrais and Guindreff were finally up to their task… when the situation changed radically once again. In June 1917, the first contingents of the American army landed in Saint-Nazaire. The town was to become a huge military basis, and between 1917 and 1919, nearly 200,000 American soldiers were to be stationed at some time in Saint-Nazaire. The water problem was more critical than ever. The Americans undertook huge works among which the digging of the Bois-Joalland lake. A little hamlet was to disappear beneath one and a half million cubic metres of freshwater…

The lakes and ponds are still there, today a source of pleasure rather than of drinking water. The water that flows out of the tabs in Saint-Nazaire comes from two distinct sources, several dozen kilometres away. But above all it is of excellent quality!

American troops arrived in Saint-Nazaire in 1917.