On Tuesday night, extreme high tides flooded 85 percent of Venice and parts of the city six feet deep. The floodwaters pushed boats ashore, swept through buildings, hauled groceries off shelves and crashed library books into dark pools. The school was closed and the city council meeting was cancelled. Residents and tourists shuttle through the streets of high-waisted waters. A man in his 70s died of electrocution while trying to turn on a pump in his home.
About every five years, the city experiences an unusually high tide like this. But this year’s catastrophic flooding is the worst since 1966. It’s the result of a combination of risk factors, including the moon, weather, ground sinking, climate change and the political scandals of billions of dollars in projects. How the city responds to these problems will determine its future. Experts familiar with the problems say the city could have been spared the devastation it is today. At present, global climate change exacerbates flooding. Venice is at greater risk as ice melts and raises sea levels.
The city of Venice consists of about 100 islands in the Adriatic Lagoon. Venice sank nearly 5 inches between 1950 and 1970 and continued to drop about a fifth of an inch each year as tectonic plates moved downwards in the middle of the century and by pumping water out of the ground for industrial purposes. Venice previously spent more than $6 billion on a flood barrier system, nicknamed “MOSE,” which includes a steel gate system along three entrances to the lagoon, which will be lifted when the tides are 3.6 feet above sea level, and the project is designed to withstand tides up to 10 feet high. But in the end it was over budget and beset by corruption scandals.
For other reasons, the flood gate system has been controversial. Environmentalists worry that this could damage the lagoon’s ecosystem. MOSE is designed to protect Venice for the next 50 to 100 years. But recent research has found that Venice could be submerged in the next 100 years if climate change is not curbed.