Flood protectionVenice Ambitious Anti-Flood System Passes First Trial

Published 10 July 2020

Venice On Friday conducted the first test of a controversial dam system made up of 78 inflatable barriers, aiming to protect the city from severe flooding. The ambitious and costly dam system, launched in 2003, has been plagued by corruption and is nearly a decade behind schedule. It will becoe fully operational by the end of 20201, and it is designed to hold water surges as high as 10 feet.

Venice On Friday conducted the first test of a controversial dam system made up of 78 inflatable barriers, aiming to protect the city from severe flooding.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte traveled to Venice for the ceremonial test, and pressed a button which activated compressors to pump air into the yellow barriers. All 78 barriers were successfully inflated and raised from the sea.

The trial run lasted 90 minutes, but officials said that, in a true emergency, the inflatable barriers could be filled with pumped air and begin to hold back flood water within 30 minutes.

Hinges attach the movable flood gates to cement blocks on the seabed along three openings which connect the sea to the lagoon where the city of Venice is situated. When flooding or high tide are no longer a threat to the city, water is pumped into the gates for ballast, causing them to sink below sea level.

The project has been plagued by delays, which caused a near-decade postponement in its becoming operational.

The project’s name — MOSE — is a play on words: it is an acronym for MOdulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico (Experimental Electromechanical Module), but it is also the Italian spelling of the Old Testament figure Moses, for whom the Red Sea is said to have parted as he led the Israelites out of Egypt.

The ambitious $6.2 billion project — which, in addition to technical and engineering delays was tainted by corruption scandals — was launched in 2003 and was supposed to have been completed in 2011.

In his speech, Conte admitted that the anti-flood system had been smeared by “clear episodes of corruption and crime,” but said it was now time to “focus on the objective: we should all hope that it works.”

The MOSE project is now officially set to be finished in December 2021, but officials expressed hope it could be ready sooner.

Environmentalists have been protesting the building of the barrier, claiming that since sea levels are rising as a result of climate change, the barriers will soon become ineffective: sea levels, especially during sever storms, are calculated to rise much higher than anything the system is designed to hold back.

Sea level rise has already inflicted heavy losses on the city. In November 2019, portions of the city were devastated by the worst flooding in more than 50 years. Floodwaters inundated the renowned St. Mark’s Basilica as well as into homes, hotels, shops, and restaurants. The direct flood damages cost Venice more than $1.5 billion, and this is before the economic damage from the absence of tourists during the busy Christmas holiday is taken into account.

The MOSE barrier is designed to hold back tides as high as 10 feet. In November 2019, flood levels reached 6.2 feet.