Venice’s $7.3 billion flood barrier undergoes first test


Flood-prone Venice on Saturday carried out the first test of its €5.4 billion ($7.3 billion) barrier system known as “Moses,” designed to protect the Renaissance city from rising sea levels.

The ambitious engineering project involves installing 78 mobile barriers divided into four sections at the three inlets to the Venice lagoon, with the largest inlet divided in half by an artificial island.

Fifty companies have been involved in the massive project overseen by the Venezia Nuova consortium, which has been dogged by delays, environmental concerns and scandal.

On Saturday dozens of officials, including Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi, were on hand for the first test of the system.

They watched as four floating barriers were raised at the lagoon’s eastern Lido inlet.

The locks will be activated when the water is 1.1 meters above normal, said Hermes Redi, Venezia Nuova’s director general. “Therefore, these locks will not defend Venice from all ‘acqua alta’ (high water) events. They will protect Venice from any exceptional ‘acqua alta’ events — that is, up to a maximum of seven times a year.”

The city’s vulnerability to rising water levels has worsened dramatically over the years. During the 20th century, Venice sank by 23 cm.

The 78 box-shaped barriers will be inserted into immense tanks on the seafloor. When high waters threaten the city, pressurized air will be pumped into the barriers, raising them up on hinges to block the tidal flow.

Once the danger has passed, the air will be expelled and the barriers will fill with water and sink back to the seafloor.

Construction began in 2003, and the problem-plagued system is expected to be finally up and running by 2017.