Historic day in Venice: a new levee system stopped the flood

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The iconic Italian city managed to activate a containment system against high tides for the first time. It is a before and after, authorities said. It cost 7,000 million euros.

After decades of bureaucratic delays, corruption and resistance from environmental groups, the designed levees To defend Venice from “acqua alta” or high tide they finally rose on Saturday, testing their ability to combat the increasingly threatening floods in the city of Italy.

At 10 a.m., the 78 gates that blocked three entrances to the Venetian lagoon had been raised, when the tide reached 120 centimeters water levels within the lagoon remained stable, authorities said. “There wasn’t a puddle in St. Mark’s Square,” said Alvise Papa, director of the Venice department that monitors high tides. The system is called “Mose (Moses). “A historic day marks a before and after for Venice”, headlined the local newspaper Il Gazzetino.

If the flood barriers had not been erected, approximately half the city streets would have been under water and visitors to St. Mark’s Square, which floods when the tide approaches 3 feet, would have been wading with the water waist high in some areas, he said.

“Everything dry here. Pride and joy”Luigi Brugnaro, the recently re-elected mayor of Venice, tweeted.

Designed some four decades ago to help save Venice from flooding, the mobile barrier system was delayed by cost overruns, corruption and opposition from environmental and conservation groups. The cost of the protection system tripled compared to initial estimates, reaching 7,000 million euros. And a bribery scandal in 2014 led to the arrest of then-mayor Giorgio Orsoni and dozens of others, including politicians and businessmen involved in the project. Orsoni and some of the other defendants were acquitted.

“We are in a difficult situation and little by little we have been able to work things out,” said Giuseppe Fiengo, one of the commissioners who has supervised the project since 2014. “The important thing is that today, for the first time, with high water, Venice was not flooded“.

The gates have been tested several times over the past summer, but under less threatening weather conditions than Saturday.

The system is not yet fully operational. Some of the infrastructure has yet to be completed and the workers are not fully trained, so Saturday’s operation was technically a test. “But it’s a test that had one goal, to ensure the safety of the city, and it did,” Scotti said.

The construction companies that build the system have until December 2021 to complete the work. When fully operational, the gates will activate when the tide reaches 95 centimeters. Until then, the gates will be operated when the tide reaches 120 centimeters, as it did on Saturday.

Although significant, Saturday’s tide levels are a far cry from the exceptionally high water levels seen last year, when it reached 180 centimeters, and the year before, endangering the city and causing the mayor to declare a state of emergency. Scotti said that the floodgates had been designed to defend the city “even in anomalous situations”, and even with high tides reaching three meters.

The ambitious feat of engineering can be lifted in 30 minutes and then disappear completely underwater when not activated, a unique structure in the world. In the United States and the Netherlands, barriers have been built at sea but none disappear completely under water.

Many remember the fateful date of November 12 last year, when Venice suffered the worst flood since 1966 and the city was paralyzed with knee-deep water. Dirty and salty waters swirled that day around the marble tombs of the famous Byzantine crypt of St. Mark’s Basilica, which was badly damaged. “Today is a day of hope”, confessed the Patriarch of Venice, Francesco Moraglia, who has mobilized resources to restore the magnificent monument.

While project supporters welcomed Saturday’s test as a major victory, some pointed out that the floodgates will not fully solve the growing threat. representing climate change. Rising sea levels and new wind patterns could force the gates to stay up so frequently that it could destroy ship traffic or turn the Venetian lagoon into a swamp.

“With climate change, there is the possibility that the floodgates are used between 150 and 180 days a year, becoming an almost fixed barrier and cutting off the relationship of the lagoon with the sea, ”said Cristiano Gasparetto, an architect and former provincial official who has long opposed it. the project.

“If the lagoon is isolated from the sea for long periods, it dies, because the natural exchange of water stops and all his organic life it runs the risk of breaking down, ”he said.

“If the lagoon dies, Venice dies,” he added. “It loses its characteristics.”

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