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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 would close off the lagoon when high tides threaten, is nearing completion. These works may, however, cause their own ecological problems, since the strong tides are useful in cleansing the waters of the canals and lagoon. Another proposed solution is to build a deep-water port for the giant cruise ships that dock near Stazione Marittima during the summer. This will better protect the ecology of the lagoon, but will also severely curtail the current easy access these passengers have to the city. Both projects represent a much-debated response to an emotionally charged problem, particularly after the historic tide in December 2008.

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 the gargantuan cruise ships—is among the city's most contentious issues.

Updated: 07-2013

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