High floods in Venice blocked for the second time by the MOSE mobile dams

Today, on 15 October 2020, the MOSE mobile dams blocked Venice from flooding for the second time. At 9.10 am, the tide was at 140 cm at the Malamocco dam outside the lagoon, but it was 54 cm at the Punta della Salute tide gauge inside the lagoon. So the MOSE dams kept Venice dry from high floods for a second time.

On Saturday 3 October 2020, we celebrated a magnificent achievement of human intervention taming the threats presented by nature. After strong winds and high tides were forecast, the mobile barriers in Venice’s ‘MOSE’ dam system blocked high flooding in the city for the first time ever.

By 10.10 am in the morning on 3 October, all 78 of the mobile barriers at the three inlets between Venice’s lagoon and the sea were raised. This meant Venice’s lagoon was separated from the sea. At 10.35 am, the tide reading was 120 cm at the Lido inlet dam outside the lagoon. Meanwhile the reading at the same time was 71 cm at the Punta della Salute tide gauge, 63 cm at Burano and 60 cm at Chioggia, all inside the lagoon. Despite heavy rain, flooding was averted and people could walk around low-lying areas of the city which would usually be under water, including St. Mark’s Square. This is a huge benefit for local people with schools, businesses and institutions throughout the city able to function without the significant inconveniences which high floods normally bring to the city during such stormy weather.

The prevention of high floods by the dams also comes a year after the city and places throughout the lagoon were seriously damaged by a terrible series of high floods. Boats, homes, churches, monuments and properties throughout the lagoon were ravished by flooding causing millions of Euros worth of damage and widespread disruption. That period was a brutal reminder of how devastating nature can be to such an important historical city. Those floods were the highest Venice had suffered for fifty-three years since the whole city was flooded for several days in November 1966, as described last year in this article: https://dstandish.com/2019/11/14/venice-suffers-its-worst-floods-for-53-years-my-assessment-of-the-causes-and-responses-needed-live-on-euronews/

Last year, the MOSE dam system was due to be operational by the start of 2022. But since that awful period of high flooding in 2019, tests have been done and the government, local authorities and people working on the dam system should be commended for putting it into operation. There is still work to be done on the system before it can be considered fully operational. While the barriers have been effective today, it is expected they will be raised for high tides of over one metre, but they are unlikely to be raised for all high tides until all work on them is finished. The MOSE system is designed to protect Venice against tides of up to three metres. Technically these recent operations can be considered tests, but ones which achieved the objective of stopping significant flooding.

These tests follow many tests during the summer. On 10 July 2020, all 78 barriers were raised to separate the lagoon from the sea for the first time, but this was during good weather. There were some problems in July with barriers returning back down into their caissons and there are still many problems with rusting and corrosion of parts in the dam system. We hope all barriers return to their caissons without difficulties when the high tides lower again. In July protesters with the ‘No MOSE’ campaign demonstrated against the raising of the dams and were blocked by police from obstructing the test, as noted here: https://dstandish.com/2020/07/11/venice-raises-all-mose-mobile-dams-to-block-its-lagoon-from-the-sea-for-the-first-time-despite-protests-and-problems/

Where are those protesters today when Venetians are finally protected against high floods? I have interviewed many of these protesters and observed their ‘No MOSE’ campaign events since 2005. Now we can observe the significant benefits for people in the city and wider lagoon. After the construction of the MOSE dams began in 2003, their operation is long overdue and environmental opposition has been one cause of delays to construction.

The environmentalists among these protesters have argued that the MOSE dam project damaged local landscape, wildlife and distorted the economic and social life of Venice. They have frequently commented that MOSE dams go against mythical ancient Venetian traditions of following nature with interventions which are gradual, experimental and reversible. For these reasons, environmentalist have rejected the MOSE dams as too risky. In reality, the MOSE dams have been too gradual, subject to lengthy experimentation and are only planned as a temporary way to combat high floods.

The operation of the MOSE dams should be welcomed as another great step in following Venetian traditions of intervening against nature to enable the lagoon city to survive. From the diverting of large rivers bringing silt into the lagoon between 1324 and 1860 to the building of the great Murazzi sea walls on the Lido during the eighteenth century, Venice has endured by transforming the surrounding natural environment. The MOSE dams are a unique engineering achievement with the barriers situated underwater unless raised to block flooding. So, unlike many tide dams around the world, they do not obscure the view of the landscape. Now we can celebrate another example of human and Venetian ingenuity in changing the natural environment to limit the impact of natural hazards.

You can read an analysis of how the MOSE project and opposition to it evolved in my book at the link below:

https://dstandish.com/book-information-for-venice-in-environmental-peril-myth-and-reality/

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