Venice Experience

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Wading Through the Acqua Alta

There are two ways to get anywhere in Venice: walking and by water. Occasionally you walk through water, when falling barometers, southeasterly winds, and even a full moon may exacerbate normally higher fall and spring tides. The result is acqua alta—flooding in the lowest parts of town, especially Piazza San Marco. It generally occurs in late fall and, to a lesser extent, in spring, and lasts a few hours until the tide recedes.

Venetians handle the high waters with aplomb, donning waders and erecting temporary walkways, but they're well aware of the damage caused by the flooding and the threat it poses to their city. The Moses Project, underwater gates that will close off the lagoon when high tides threaten, is still in progress and slated to go into operation in 2016. The extensive works threaten to alter the lagoon-scape, and still represent a much-debated response to an emotionally charged problem. How to protect Venice from high tides—aggravated by the deep channels dug to accommodate oil tankers and cruise ships, as well as the lagoon-altering wave action caused by powerboats—is among the city's most contentious issues.

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