Keeping Venice afloat

Written by Elena Collins on 26 November 2012

Venice is under attack once again due to the risk of flooding. 70% of the city was submerged under water in November, the highest flood since 1966.

Venice is recognised across the globe as a symbol of historic beauty, home to some of the world’s most iconic architecture and art but in November this year, the city was once again under threat. The high tides, reckless winds and heavy rain along the Adriatic coast left Venice drowning, as two-thirds of it was submerged by 1.50 metres of water. Whilst the City of Water continues to fight against the Adriatic Sea, the clock is now ticking for the completion of the MOSES project, an ambitious engineering system designed to protect the city.

Venice in floods

MOSES – "MOSE" in Italian – a clever acronym for the project's name, Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico, which conjures visions from the Biblical narrative of Moses parting the waves of the Red Sea. The project aims to achieve just that. The barriers consist of a series of breakwaters and mobile barriers, which are currently being built at the three inlets to the Venice lagoon (Lido, Malamocco and Chioggia). The construction of 78 giant steel gates and the 300-tonne hinged panels, 92ft wide and 65ft high will be raised whenever a dangerously high tide is predicted, in the hope to shield the city from powerful storms. Launched by the Infrastructure Ministry in 1987, MOSES, is part of the general plan to safeguard Venice and the lagoon. Construction began in 2003 and will be completed by 2014.

In 2011, to help finance the Venice flood defence scheme, The European Investment Bank (EIB) provided €480M (£433M) to the Consorzio Venezia Nuova (CVN). The co-operation in charge of implementing the MOSES project, was set up by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport via the Venice Water Authority. For the EIB, the operation meets a number of financing priorities such as support for infrastructure works and environmental protection. The contract signed in 2011, represents the first major installment of that loan and the agreement between the EIB and the Infrastructure Ministry to finance works included in the Italian Government’s 10-year strategic infrastructure plan. 

There is mixed feelings towards the giant flood barrier. Whilst the idea is seen as a practical solution to the ever-ending problem, environmentalists fear the natural breeding grounds for birds will be destroyed and the sea beds will be damaged. There is also fierce opposition from locals, city councils members and the charity Venice in Peril, who believes “The barriers will protect the city against any extreme weather events and the current, frequent small floods, but cannot mitigate this chronic problem, for which a solution has yet to be devised.”

venice flooding
A flooded home in Venice

It is not just storms that the City of Bridges has to fight against. The city has sunk by over 23 cm in just the past century. A combination of groundwater extraction for agriculture and industry on the mainland, and offshore drilling for methane gas has increased the vulnerability of the city.

Venice in Peril argues that ‘Unless there is the political will for long term investment of money and research into this, Venice will gradually suffer more and more costly structural damage from the water.’  However, Venice will almost certainly be uninhabitable by 2100 because of rising water levels and flooding. At present the Italian government has decided to invest its money into MOSES as a piece of infrastructure to saving the city from sinking. From 2014, scientists will be able to assess if the flood barrier will be able to keep Venice from going under.

Categories: Energy and water, Governance, Regulation, Venice