A project started in 2003 designed to prevent Venice from flooding should be finished in 2016. The £4.5 billion project was originally proposed in the 1960s but was never implemented due to arguments over the cost, design and environmental impact of the project. Only more recent floods of the city combined with international concerns over Venice’s future led to the overcoming of a number of stumbling blocks, to see the commencement of the current project.
Venice is generally threatened several times a year by the “acqua alta”, when the high tide in the Adriatic climbs by about a metre, leading to flooding of the city’s most celebrated sites, including St Mark’s Square. The city has gradually become more vulnerable to rising water levels. During the 20th century, Venice sank by 23 centimetres, mainly due to a combination of pumping groundwater from beneath the city and the compaction of the ground from centuries of building.
Once the project is completed, the floodgates will extend for more than a mile, blocking the three inlets to the lagoon in the event of rising sea levels and winter storms. The 78 box-shaped barriers will be inserted into immense tanks on the sea floor. When high waters threaten the city, pressurised air will be pumped into the barriers, raising them up on hinges to block the tidal flow. Once the danger has passed, the air will be expelled and the barriers will fill with water.
A huge lock has also been built by the central inlet to allow cruise ships to enter the lagoon when the gates are up.
The Mayor of Venice has been keen to stress that Venice is “not an amusement park, but a living city.” He feels that the flood defence project illustrates this very well.
However, the many hoteliers and others who rely on tourism for their main income will breathe a little easier when the flood defence project is eventually finished and the likelihood of Venice being flooded becomes far more remote.