The unrealised project of the Otrokovice-Zlín waterway

  • Pavel Cenek, Jana Kučerová, David Veselý, Ludmila Kovářová, Čestmír Daňhel, Radim Frajt, Martin Marek, Baťův kanál: od myšlenky k nápadu, Brno 2018
  • Pavol Čmelík et al, Přírodní a technická památka Baťův kanál, Veselí nad Moravou 2003
  • Antonín Pechánek, Úprava řeky Moravy. Historický nástin. K vládnímu návrhu zákona o státním fondu pro splavnění řek, vybudování průplavů, výstavbu údolních přehrad a pro využitkování vodních sil, Praha 1931
  • Kateřina Smutná, Vladimír Řežucha, Nástin historie snah o splavení řeky Moravy a výstavbu propojení Dunaj–Odra–Labe., Ekotrans Moravia, 1991, s. 39-42
  • Kateřina Smutná, Závlahový a plavební kanál Otrokovice–Rohatec z období 1934–1938., Jižní Morava, 1989, s. 265-268


In the Central European area, rivers have been a natural communication link since prehistoric times, along which goods and people were transported, and ideas spread. Loads of salt were transported along rivers, over long distances, supplemented in later times by loads of grain, livestock, and wood, as well as luxury goods. With the advent of the railway in the 19th century and the development of automobile transport in the 20th century, the rivers lost their exceptional status.

Nevertheless, rivers did not stay away from public interest. In line with prevailing thought at the turn of the 20th century, similar to human society and the surrounding cultural landscape, even the hitherto least affected landscape units were to be "cultivated". Only in this way could they become beneficial to humans and their needs. The flow of the rivers themselves could not avoid modernisation claims either. Dams were built to prevent rivers from spilling over a wide area when water levels were high. Lands obtained by straightening meandering streams were recultivated for the needs of farmers. The improvement of the wetlands was then supposed to evaluate the flooded land in the fertile floodplains. Canalised river courses were to serve regular river traffic, and at appropriate points the “runaway” water power was to be harnessed by valley dams producing cheap electricity for expanding industry. “Thus, a million spent on regulation,” proclaimed Baťa's press, “turns into tens of millions flowing from improved land and more intensive industrial business.”

Before I begin the explanation of the problem of the waterway in the valley of the River Dřevnice, I should relate it to the more well-known neighbouring project along the River Morava. The most frequently used name of this Moravian waterway by the authorities was the Otrokovice–Rohatec Irrigation and Navigation Canal, but already at the time of its construction, it went by the unofficial name of the Baťa Canal, which then became the official name after the restoration of the waterway at the beginning of the 21st century. Although the waterway on the Dřevnice River is connected to the Baťa Canal in a complementary way, these are two independent projects. At the same time, the issue of the Baťa Canal is not the subject of this study, and I will deal with it only to the extent necessary for understanding the issue of the waterway on the Dřevnice River valley. Similarly, the issue of the East Moravian waterway connected with the discovery of the tourist potential of the Baťa Canal in the 1990s is not the subject of this study.

The first phase of the project – the 1930s

Simultaneously with the design of the valley navigation on the Moravia River (in the project known today as Baťa Canal), the Baťa management represented by Jan Antonín Baťa, the chief, Josef Hlavnička, the director and Stanislav Matuš, [?] Vyslužil and Ing. [?] Paleček the designers, was involved in the early 1930s in extending the waterway from Otrokovice to Zlín. One of the first decisions regarding the construction resulted in the division of the boat connection from Hodonín to Zlín into two separate projects: the Moravian-valley line from Hodonín to Otrokovice (briefly discussed in the next chapter) and the associated Dřevnice line ending in Zlín. Already at the first meetings of the Baťa management in December 1932, the administration of the waterway through the Dřevnice valley was discussed. The goal of the eleven-kilometre route with an elevation exceeding 30 metres was, among other things, to connect the Otrokovice and Zlín factory sites.

From the beginning, the meetings discussed routing alongside the existing railway, road, and water infrastructure, and technical parameters were thought through. The key question was whether to lead a navigable route through the River Dřevnice or to build an artificial canal in its vicinity. There were several indisputable advantages in favour of floating the river bed: the purchase of most of the necessary land would not be required, new bridging would not be necessary and neither would there be any need for water rights negotiations, as water losses through evaporation and seepage were part of the river flow. And finally, an undeniable benefit was the possibility of drawing public funds for the implementation of the construction.

The disadvantages for navigating the riverbed, however, were significantly greater. Transport was dependent on the flow; higher or lower water levels would disrupt the flow of traffic. Navigability could only be maintained at high financial cost, especially after floods, where expensive dredging of the silted bottom would be required. Building technical facilities that improve the quality of waterways (locks, weirs) was more financially demanding on the river than on the artificial channel. Transport against the current was again more demanding in terms of energy. Especially at higher water levels, and thus higher flow speeds, the demands on traction force would be at the limit of profitability. Finally, the fact that such a waterway would become public by nature and the concern would have to accept other users on its route was also important for decision-making.

After considering these factors, at the beginning of 1933, the above-mentioned working group headed by Jan Antonín Baťa was inclined to lead a waterway through the Dřevnice riverbed only to a limited extent, although the increased costs due to the purchase of land and compensation of the millers for the loss of water argued against the construction of an artificial canal. It was logistically challenging to implement another line construction in a densely built-up area and in a place with numerous communication lines. It was clear that such a solution would include a number of crossings, culverts, underpasses, road bridging, and repositioning of the railway line.

As early as January 1933, employees of the Baťa company began a detailed reconnaissance of the terrain, examining dozens of different routes and surveying them. The conclusions obtained from the field were then discussed at regular management meetings. At the same time, the designers obviously did not want to rely only on their own knowledge. The basic parameters of 76 French and 130 British channels obtained from available sources appear in the documents for the project; this information was apparently intended to serve as inspiration during construction. Three of them were examined in more detail: Canal du Centre, Canal du Berry and Canal de la Sauldre. The fact that the Baťa management was serious about the project is also evidenced by the instructions to the design department from the spring of 1933, which was to start planning the front folding and rear strut gates, sluice gates and chamber equipment.

For reasons that are unclear, however, the construction of the waterway did not progress further after the first preparatory works in 1933, although the management and several authorised qualified workers focused on it intensely for several months. Not even a rough outline of the resulting route has survived, if it ever existed. The delay in construction was apparently due to enormous costs, which the Baťa company was unwilling to pay. This would be evidenced by the actions of the City Council in Zlín, whose decisions were determined and controlled by the Baťa management in the 1930s - since the elections in 1923, the Baťa candidates had a comfortable majority in the Zlín council and from 1931 even occupied it completely, except for a single vote. Members of top management, including Tomáš Baťa, Dominik Čipera and Jan Antonín Bata, held leading positions at the town hall for a long time. Executive functions then belonged to selected Baťa leaders. Based on requests from the Zlín City Council, the Regional Office in Brno, the highest political body of the Moravian-Silesian Region, began to discuss the establishment of a waterway. With its decree, the Agricultural and Technical Building Administration in Zlín took over the design.

With the transfer of the project from the private sphere to public administration, there was probably an effort to cover part of the construction with public funds, as was the case with the waterway of the so-called Otrokovice–Rohatec Irrigation and Navigation Canal (today the Baťa Canal) on the Morava River, when a series of costly melioration improvements were paid for as part of the so-called emergency works from public funds, and the costs associated with the construction of the waterway were shared equally by the Ministry of Social Welfare and the Baťa company. Specifically, in the case of the model used in the construction of the canal on the Morava River, the Zlín headquarters undertook to pay half of the projected costs for putting the navigable sections into operation (i.e. 6,669,500 CZK out of 13.34 million CZK), while the amount for the complete construction of the canal was, with regard to extensive irrigation and regulatory adjustments calculated at 25.45 million CZK.

In its master plan from November 1934, the Agricultural and Technical Building Administration in Zlín prioritised the navigation of the riverbed. At the same time, the project dealt with the safe drainage of water at higher water levels, including the two proposed valley reservoirs – on the Fryštácký Stream and on the Dřevnice River near Slušovice, while the first one had already been under construction for two years. The navigable route used already regulated parts of the flow to the maximum extent possible. In the still unregulated parts, changes were expected compared to the older chainage, as in some places it was not suitable for navigation.

Since the gradient of the river was too high for navigation, it was planned to divide the river into individual sections with an average length of approximately 0.75 km. In total, there were to be 13 release stages with movable weirs on the river. The locks associated with them were to be located just next to the new river bed, connected by canals. The first stage was designed right at the mouth of the Dřevnice to Morava, the end of the waterway was planned at the factory site of the Baťa company in Zlín. With the construction of the wharf, the situation of the buildings in the power plant area would have to be partly changed.

According to the calculations presented in the technical report, the costs of the Dřevnice navigation, from Zlín to its mouth in the Morava River in Otrokovice, including all works, the purchase of necessary land and the inclusion of items for unforeseen and administrative expenses, amounted to a total of CZK 20.085 million. At the same time, 7.958 million CZK were allocated to the treatment of the still unregulated parts of the Dřevnice River, with assumed payment from public funds, and 12.127 million CZK were allocated to the river navigation itself (construction of lock weirs and a tow path), which would go from the account of a private investor, i.e. the Baťa company. The total cost of navigation could have been reduced by up to CZK 872,000 if the first hold and the associated lock at the mouth of the Dřevnice to Morava were eliminated, as proposed by the Baťa company.

In addition to the navigation of the Dřevnice River, the Construction Administration also mentioned an alternative project in the form of the construction of an artificial navigation channel in the presented master plan. According to a rough estimate, the cost of its construction amounted to 13.5 million CZK. This artificial channel was designed with a bottom width of only six metres, which would allow only one-way navigation.

The following year, an employee of the Baťa company, Ing. Paleček evaluated the master plan from the point of view of profitability. The criterion for evaluating the navigation was the estimated one-day length of the voyage between Zlín and Otrokovice, which excluded from the transport valuable and urgent goods as well as goods transported from Otrokovice by other types of transport.

Another condition for calculating profitability was the expected connection of Otrokovice via the Morava River to the international Danube waterway with access to the Black Sea ports. Despite this connection of waterways, the articles transported along Dřevnice to Zlín were to be dominated by local fuels and building materials (lignite, gravel, sand, and to a lesser extent also wood, oil and petrol) and it was only in the second plan that the import of raw materials (rubber, used tyres, leather, sulphur, and latex) was considered, as well as feed and food (maize, flour). It is also interesting that Ing. Paleček, reckoned with a significant disproportion in ship transport in his calculations. In the opposite direction - from Zlín to Otrokovice - only about a tenth of the weight of the ship's cargo was supposed to go. It was to be made up of footwear and, in particular, sorted waste that could be used in branch plants in Otrokovice (iron, old paper, rubbish).

However, despite the exaggerated twenty-year increase in transport to Zlín from the existing 95,000 to 140,000 tons and to Otrokovice from 10 to 15,000 tons, ship transport was unprofitable compared to rail. Transportation of 1 ton of cargo between Zlín and Otrokovice cost 3.00-3.50 CZK by rail, while the water tariff was calculated at 5.80 CZK. The problem was not the operating and shipping expenses amounting to CZK 1.24, but the amortization of construction costs for river navigation amounting to CZK 4.56, which the company would have to pay. And so the Baťa designer Ing. Paleček wrote: “Water transport could be cheaper only if the entire cost of navigation [i.e. construction costs] did not have to be covered by the Baťa company,” and thus concluded the idea of building a waterway to Zlín for the next few years.

Wartime resurrection of the project

The project was revived only during the Second World War at the initiative of the Baťa company. According to the attached technical report, the planned waterway Otrokovice–Zlín was supposed to make the transportation of lignite from the group's mines in the Hodonín region more efficient. Since its construction in 1938, the waterway from Rohatka to Otrokovice (Baťov), now known as the Baťa Canal, was used to transport lignite. The length of this waterway exceeded 50 km, of which 1 km led through the lower reaches of the Dřevnice River; a total of 25.4 km of the route was accounted for by the regulated flow of the Morava River and 23.7 km by the artificial navigation channel. Only the last, approximately four kilometre section near Hodonín remained unbuilt from the original waterway project. Although the Baťa Canal was a public construction, after its completion the concern acquired it for its own administration.

Its operation significantly improved the transport connection between the concern's lignite mines in Hodonín area and the Otrokovice power plant supplying electricity to the Zlín-Otrokovice industrial area; it was precisely this purpose, for which the navigation channel was built and its technical parameters were adapted. However, the missing section leading through the Dřevnice valley meant that the lignite, the largest consumer of which was the power plant and gas plant in Zlín, had to be transferred from cargo boats to railway wagons in Otrokovice, which made transportation more expensive. The newly designed Otrokovice-Zlín waterway made by the design department of the Baťa company solved this issue by making use of all the advantages of water transport when transporting bulky loads.

According to the concern's project from 1941, the initial section of 2.688 km was supposed to lead along the bed of the Dřevnice River, from its mouth to Morava to above the road bridge in Otrokovice. Another section with a length of 6.616 km was to continue in an artificial navigation channel along the right bank of the Dřevnice. The waterway was to enter Dřevnice for a final length of 1,856 km, where it would end with the navigation chamber of the port in Zlín. The cargo boats were to be towed by tugboats on the first section, while on the remaining two sections tractors were expected to tow the boats from the towpath leading along the top of the side dam.

The port with two unloading bays intended for unloading and storing lignite was situated in the Baťa factory area in the neighbourhood of the power plant and the new gas plant. Its basic shape was given by the local construction conditions, the width had to be sufficient to turn the boats for the return journey. Compared to Dřevnice, the level of the port was 3.92 m higher. This height difference was spanned by the last planned lock on the channel. The bottom of the port and the surrounding walls were to be made of concrete to prevent the water from leaking into the surroundings.

The construction of the Zlín port, as evidenced by plans, would have significantly changed the appearance of the south-eastern part of the factory area. Not only would it have brought an open water surface to industrial premises, but several buildings in the 50th and 60th row would have to be demolished, and some operations of the existing energy system would have to undergo substantial reconstruction. The coal unloading was to be provided by a mobile bridge crane with a grab with a capacity of approximately two cubic metres.

On its 11.2 km long journey, shipping had to overcome a difference in height of 30.65 m, almost double what the canal from Rohatka to Otrokovice had to overcome on its fifty-kilometre journey. Overcoming the differences in height was solved by construction of four weirs accompanied by four locks on the River Dřevnice, and on the artificial canal by the construction of another six locks. The locks were dimensioned based on the sizes of the boats used on the Rohatec–Otrokovice route, with a length of 38 metres and a width of 4.9 metres. The first two chambers on the Drěvnice River were designed with a usable length of 56.5 m to accommodate a tug along with the boat, the other chambers were 42 m long. The boats used could be loaded with up to 220 tons of cargo at a maximum draft of 1.6 m, however, by default, they transported "only" 150 tons of lignite at a draft of 1.2 m on the Baťa Canal.

In order to avoid time delays, the entire waterway was designed as a two-way route, which corresponded to the width of the channel bottom (12 m), the width of the surface (19.6 m), and the minimum water depth (1.9 m). In contrast to the navigable Baťa Canal, whose parts run on artificial canals were mostly one-way and shallower in depth, this dimensioning had another reason. The Dřevnice Canal was supposed to be usable even after the expected construction of the Danube-Oder Canal. Its built capacity was supposed to be sufficient to serve Zlín with large-tonnage ships of international navigation. The costs associated with the construction of the waterway were calculated at 15.8 million Protectorate crowns. However, the project did not mention who would finance the construction.

 Similar to the older project, here too the authors dealt in detail with crossing roads, raising bridges and building sluices, outlets and drainage ditches. At the same time, they had to cope with water consumption in the canal section. These were not exactly small matters, the calculated values were based on an average evaporation in the range of 2.9 l/s, the absorption was calculated at 8.7 l/s, and the permeation when using the chambers as much as 92 l/s. These losses were to be covered by the inflow of water from the Slušovice dam projected in the valley of the Dřevnice River between the municipalities of Slušovice and Lípa, while they would also affect land in the cadastres of the municipalities of Veselá, Klečůvka and Zádveřice. In addition to protection against floods, which almost every year plagued the entire strip of municipalities around Dřevnice up to its confluence with the Morava River, its capacity was to serve as an alternative source of drinking water for Zlín. At the same time, it was expected that in the future it would cover part of the water consumption on the planned Danube-Oder Canal. The first steps towards the realisation of the above-mentioned Slušovice dam were taken from the mid-1930s. The process of land expropriation was started, as part of the preparatory work. The Lípa–Slušovice road was realigned between 1939 and 1948, and an administrative building for the future dam keeper was built. The actual implementation of the construction of the water reservoir was interrupted by the occupation, and despite repeated attempts to revive the project after the Second World War, the construction of the dam in the given location was eventually abandoned. The name of a bus stop the “Slušovice Dam” on the four-lane road II/491 from Lípa to Slušovice, remains a reminder of the unrealised construction to this day.


Despite considerable difficulties with return on costs and – now obvious – a significantly greater ecological burden associated with the construction of navigable canals, the Otrokovice–Zlín waterway undoubtedly represents an interesting example of a small waterway – designed at a time when the operation of similar types of waterways was relatively frequent in Western European countries and also supported by regional administrations.

However, during the Second World War, the project of a navigable route along Dřevnice did not even reach the preparatory stage. At the same time it is not possible to clearly determine from the sources whether it was expected to be implemented in the next few years, or whether it was intended as a long term objective. With the end of the war, the demand for further streamlining of the transport connection between the lignite mines of the Baťov concern in Hodonín region and the Zlín energy system, which supplied electricity to the local industrial area, was reduced. After the crossing of the fronts, the structures on the so-called Baťa Canal, with which the waterway along the Dřevnice was supposed to form an inseparable unit, were extensively devastated. The painstaking repair took several years and was never fully completed. 

The transport of lignite along the so-called Baťa Canal has never been resumed, due to a radical restructuring of the nationalised industry. A new administrative reform from the turn of the 1940s and 1950s brought about the separation of the mines from Zlín operations. Since the waterway on the Morava River was not connected to any other traffic artery, nor was it technically equipped for other users, it was not possible to find a stable use for it in the new post-war economic conditions. The single use canal thus lost its importance, and navigation on it was stopped in 1961. In this situation, building a waterway on the Dřevnice made no sense.

Even so, it is clear from the projects described above what changes in the urban structure of Zlín the implementation of the waterway would bring. The construction built in such exaggerated dimensions, run in most sections as an artificial canal parallel to the regulated Dřevnice riverbed, together with the planned double-tracking of the railway and the implemented widening of the road surface, would significantly affect the appearance of Zlín in terms of basic communication lines. The traffic on the canal would no doubt be reflected in the resulting skylines, especially in the long-distance views from the roads leading from the west to the city centre.


Martin Marek