VENICE, Italy--If you've heard that this famous city, built on islands, is sinking, you've only heard part of the problem. Over the last 100 years, it has indeed lost 23 centimeters of land, but today, there are bigger problems facing Venice and seriously threatening its future.
Venice and other nearby towns are inside the 550-square-kilometer Venice Lagoon, which is connected to the Adriatic Sea. Rising tide levels inside the lagoon are resulting in these towns, including Venice itself, becoming more frequently flooded--three to five times each fall and autumn. At the same time, erosion of the littorals--the areas close to shore--mean that local beaches, which are considered crucial defenses for developed areas against storms, are increasingly disappearing. And finally, a local petrochemical center and deep canal excavation are contributing to reduced water and sediment quality, as well as the deterioration of local habitats, such as shallows and salt marshes.
In order to address these problems, the Venice Water Authority--created in the 16th century--along with the Italian Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport, and a consortium of Venetian engineering firms, has embarked on a series of major projects, including a massive $6.7 billion infrastructure project called the Mose system, as well as a beach reconstruction project and efforts to counteract the degradation of the lagoon environment and its natural habitats.
The Mose system is all about the construction of a large series of sophisticated gates that are going to be placed at the entry to the three lagoon inlets. The idea behind the gates is that they can sit idle in the water when unneeded, but during storms, they can be automatically raised to isolate the lagoon from the Adriatic Sea. This should, according to the Consorzio Venezia Nuova, defend the city against floods, as well as protect port activity, the morphology of the lagoon, and its water quality.