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VENICE: A CITY UNDERWATER

Today, 2.1 billion inhabitants of developed and developing nations lack access to a basic human need—safe drinking water.  The United Nations cites “growing demands, poor management and climate change as major factors in water stresses and scarcity.” On March 22nd, the UN encourages the world to focus their attention on the importance of water. This year, the UN has expressed that the answer to reducing the floods, droughts and water pollution and delivering clean water to the masses, can be found in nature. Their nature-based solutions model aims to improve water security by mimicking the role of nature in water distribution and greenhouse gas reduction.

In honor of World Water Day, the Havasi Wilderness is shedding light on a water crisis which threatens to dismantle an Italian city that was established in 400 A.D.

VENICE, ITALY— Venice is a floating metropolis whose seascapes and glowing sunsets strike at the heart chords of even the most unfeeling individual. Winding waterways, seaside charm, and the magnetic pull of Venetian culture has attracted a bevy of artists and high powered merchants throughout its history. Founded in the early Middle Ages by settlers fleeing a Barbarian attack, early Venice was a settlement of small islands off the coast of the north Adriatic Sea. The 188 islands that comprise Venice today quickly became a town where wealthy merchants who traded by sea laid their roots. Alongside American Heiress Peggy Guggenheim and Casanova (a famed lothario) Renaissance painters Titian, Bellini, and Tintoretto each called Venice home. These days, the city of romance and awe-inspiring sunsets is sliding into the sea at a reported rate of 2mm per year.


This Photo was taken by Wolfgang Moroder. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19148084

A Day in the Life

Acqua alta (high water) is the term used in Venice for the annual flooding that occurs mainly in the winter. Before high tide arrives, the sea surrounding San Marcos Square laps gently at the edge of the second step of a stairway that leads tourists to a throng of water taxis who wait— engines idling— for their next passengers. Around 3 pm, the crowds outside of San Marco’s famed Duomo (cathedral) begin to thin, and unsheathed umbrellas announce the arrival of rain. When asked of the weather, Venetians who hardly batted an eye at the rain were keen to expound upon their unusual encounter with snow in the previous week, explaining that a mess of tourists spent their holidays slipping across snow-covered bridges and slick walkways.

As we take cover inside of the bell tower, rain can be heard pelting spaces of newly exposed pavement. Three hours later, storefronts close and restaurant owners shepherd visitors outside, warning them of the coming flood.  By nightfall, continued rain and the onset of high-tide has blanketed the walking paths in over two feet of water. Yet as the deluge washes through Venice, life in the historic city seems to carry on normally.

The Floating City

During the floods of November 1966, heavy rain, severe winds, 6 feet of water, and entirely unready population isolated the city of Venice for twenty-four hours without repenting.  Since the great flood of ’66, flooding has continued to plague the “floating” city of Venice. Though it has been decades since the city has seen 6 feet of flood waters, flooding has become more consistent in contemporary history. Presently, locals prepare for around 12 “aqua altas” a year. But the flooding is getting worse as the water level in the Adriatic Sea and Venice Lagoon rises due to climate change. The sea level alone has risen five and a half inches since 1900, according to city officials.


Venice after the worst flood in its history. Public Domain.

Venice after the worst flood in its history. Public Domain.

Since the 1960’s, a number of solutions have been proposed to rescue Venice from sinking a la the fabled city of Atlantis. One of these measures, the Mo.S.E. ( Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico, or Experimental Electromechanical Module), involves the construction of 79 mobile floodgates which will separate the lagoon from the Adriatic when the tide exceeds one meter above the usual high-water mark. Plans to complete Mo.S.E have been scheduled for late in 2018, but residents are doubtful that the city will meet deadlines. Whether Mo.S.E. proves effective remains to be seen. As the city of romance sinks deeper into the ocean, it is clear that something must be done to save it.

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The Havasi Wilderness Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to heightening awareness and appreciation of the natural environment.

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