Death of Venice
20th March, 2001
This month a construction consortium will start pouring millions of tons of rock and cement into the Venice Lagoon – one of the Mediterranean’s most important wetlands. The consortium claims the dam project will ‘save’ the city from flooding. But the project failed its environmental impact assessment, threatens the ecology of the lagoon and – with global warming and rising sea-levels –may not even protect Venice anyway. Tony Zamparutti reports from Italy.
Venice was built on low islands and sandbanks in the middle of a rich coastal lagoon. For over 1,000 years storm surges have washed exceptional high tides into Venice’s squares and alleys. Venetians call them acque alte – high waters – and, typically, they last two to three hours at a time. In November 1966, however, pounding rain and an exceptional wind-swept tide flooded nearly all the city streets for 24 hours. The storm focused world attention on Venice.
The reason? Venice is sinking. Since the early 1920s mainland factories have tapped underground freshwater, depressing the land under Venice in the process. By the time pumping was finally stopped in the 1970s Venice had sunk by about 12 centimetres (almost five inches) – a small but important altitude change for a sea-level city.
In addition, deep shipping channels were dredged through the lagoon’s three inlets to transport raw materials – including crude oil for a neighbouring petrochemical complex. The deeper channels brought stronger currents,...
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