Corvée versus money: Micro-history of a water infrastructure in the Alps, the Rû Courtaud, 1393- 2013
This paper analyses the micro-history of an irrigation infrastructure in the Alps, the Rû Courtaud, bringing water from the glacier of Ventina along the Ayas Valley, until some villages in the countryside of Saint-Vincent. Established in 1393, the infrastructure is still working and serving the local communities. The peculiar interest of this history lies in the way the investment and the maintenance costs were afforded by the project promoters. After an initial payment of 80 golden florins to the Seigneur of Challant, who held the water rights, the households promoting the infrastructure offered a very well tuned supply of labour in the form of corvées. These were established in a voluntary contract binding the promoters and their heirs. This was indeed a very long term venture, as - given the hard local conditions - the construction of the Rû took fifty years. The returns, however, were satisfactory, and the Rû Courtaud is still operated after six centuries, and has still a not for profit consortium. The opportunity to substitute money finance with labour 'finance' is analysed, and the arrangement is found to be efficient in terms of minimising ownership-related costs. Several other water infrastructures in the Alps were provided by similar schemes. This seems an interesting example of a 'bottom up' mechanism for the provision of public investment.
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