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Central to the Plan to Protect Venice from the Rising Tides are Huge Floating Steel Barriers

Masked revellers walk on raised platforms above flood waters during a period of seasonal high water and on the first day of carnival, in Venice February 1, 2015. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini (ITALY - Tags: TRAVEL SOCIETY ENVIRONMENT) - RTR4NRKS

Floated along by barge , 1 of the 10-ton barriers designed to relieve Venice’s perennial flooding looks like an oversized hinged Yellow Lego.

Central to the plan to protect the city, some or all of the 78 barriers will one day be raised when the sea rises more than 110 centimeters (43 ins), to prevent damaging high tides from pushing into the lagoon city, a world heritage site built picturesquely upon more than 120 islands. Concerns that high tides are becoming more frequent because of climate change have increased the urgency.

While the concept is simple, its realization has not been.

The system of movable underwater barriers, dubbed Moses, has been beset by corruption, cost overruns and delays.

Projected at $2-B and meant to be completed by Y 2011, the project has so far cost 2X+ and is running 10 yrs behind schedule.

In the wake of last month’s flooding of Venice, the worst in 53 yrs, the consortium that oversees construction of Moses is eager to demonstrate that the project is on track and will be fully operational by the end of Y 2021.

Venetians say they cannot afford to be wrong. Skeptics and critics say they may be.

A recent test of the deepest expanse of barriers at the Malamocco entrance to the lagoon was declared a success by the New Venice Consortium.

It was the last of the 4 sections of barriers to be completely raised, but so far only in calm seas. The real test will come when all 4 are raised at once, and not only in serene waters, but under flood conditions. That is not scheduled to take place until the end of next year.

It took 6 years to test each of the four movable sea walls covering the 3 openings to the lagoon, partly because work was slowed by a Y 2014 corruption scandal that implicated the 3 main contractors and sent 35 people to jail.

Work is continuing largely with the original subcontractors now contracting directly with the consortium, which itself has been placed under government control as a result of the scandal.

The fact that the barriers have not yet been physically tested in rough seas is a concern to critics.

The barrier system is made up of giant flood gates, each 20 meters (66 ft) long. The gates are attached by hinges to giant cement blocks placed on the seabed along the 3 openings from the sea into the lagoon, Malamocco, Chioggia and the Lido. The gates can be lifted to create a temporary barrier in high tides. Once the water has receded, they can be lowered again allowing shipping traffic to continue and for the tidal system to flush out the lagoon.

The idea behind the project was to create a mobile system that would not impede views of the unique and protected landscape.

Venetians have been waiting since the record 1.94-meter (6.36-ft) flood of Y 1966 for a system to protect them from regular inundations. The flooding in November, the 2nd-worst recorded, proved the urgency.

In the 150 years that they have been recording the tide levels in Venice, 2 high tides above 1.5 meters have never been recorded in a year. In November, there were 3 in a week.

Climate scientists note that exceptional tides, those over 1.4 meters have become much more frequent in the past 20 yrs, with more than 50% of all recorded occurring since Y 2000.

The Big Q: Will Venice be defensible against these kinds of episodes?

Stay tuned…

Have a terrific weekend.

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