© 2023 Eddyburg
Edoardo Salzano
The Venice Lagoon: what it is, what they are doing on it
21 Agosto 2005
Venice and its Lagoon (english translations)
I wrote this essay for the rewiew AreaVasta in October 2003. It was published in the issue 6/7, Anno 4, July 2002- June 2003, printed in March 2004. I tried to explain what the Lagoon of Venice is, how it was wisely managed for 1000 years by the Serenissima Republic and how and why they are destroying it in XXth abd XXIth century

A unique ecosystem (more on this later): today its territory belongs to 9 cities[1], and its history is strictly dependant on the evolution of a basin that, in turn, includes 110 cities in 4 regions[2]. If there is a large area that needs a unitary administration, this is it: the Venice Lagoon. As a matter of fact, this area has already had a unitary government for 1000 years. It has one no more, since the end of the 18th century, despite repeated efforts in the last decades.

An accident in nature

The Lagoon owes its survival to its unitary administration, guaranteed for ten centuries by the Serenissima Repubblica of Venice. This is the only lagoon in the world which has stayed as such for so many centuries. The lagoon is, by definition, a system in unstable equilibrium: an accident in nature.

The lagoon is created by the balance of two opposing forces. The rivers carry towards the sea the solid matter removed from the earth, which accumulates at the river mouth, is shaped as long semi submerged “bars” by the sea currents and then, hardened, becomes the more stable “ lidi” (shores). Between the lidi and the dry land a water mirror is formed, fed by the rivers’ freshwater and the sea’s saltwater entering from the “mouths” between the lidi. Water nor fresh nor salty, water of a different nature: “briny” water.

The briny water mirror is an environment different from every other. Its bed is not regular like the funnel-shaped one of the lakes, or the degrading one of the bays and the gulfs, or the steep one of the falesian coasts: it is shaped by the innumerable river beds that ran through it during the centuries, digging here and there, leaving variable amounts of debris. And where the complex play of the underwater channel system has left taller shores, there – for few hours a day or for few weeks a year – the terrain emerges from the water and hosts several different vegetal and animal species.

(In the lagoon formed by the Brenta, Sile, Musone, Piave and several other rivers north of the Po and Adige mouths, on some of the small semi submerged islands, the first fisherman families and then the people who ran from the hinterland to flee the barbarian waves had consolidated the terrain, building their dwellings and their villages and then their town, Venice, and giving themselves, through time, a strict regulatory plan, the only guarantee for a wise administration of a scarce and precious soil).

All this while the two opposing forces, the rivers and the sea, remain in balance, as a ball on top of a convex surface.

Two natural destinies

Here are, then, the two different and opposite destinies to which every lagoon, for its own very nature, is doomed.

When the rivers forces win, when the amassing of debris prevails (rocks, sand, mud, vegetal remains of forests carried away by floods), the lagoon, every lagoon, from an unstable and multiform briny water mirror becomes a pond, then a marsh, and finally, possibly drained by human work, a field.

When the sea wave forces win, the erosion carries away the solid debris which has consolidated through time and sweeps away anything that contends space to the salty water and resists the currents with its briny immobility: the lagoon (every lagoon) becomes a stretch of sea, a bay or a gulf.

The Serenissima Repubblica of Venice has fought against these two destinies for 1000 years. And it won, because every available mind, every appropriate technology, every accessible resource, every existing authority (and it was not negligible), every administration capability was cast into the effort[3].

The nest of power

Preserving the Lagoon was vital to the Serenissima. The lagoon was the haven that guaranteed safety from potential attacks from earth and sea; it was the place were the fleet, its essential device for state hegemony over its vast commercial empire, could be built, armed, repaired and sheltered; it was the place where the raw materials (wood above all, at least until terrible fires suggested to switch to light clay) that were needed to consolidate the terrain and to found and erect buildings could arrive, thanks to the control of the rivers and of their navigability; it was the large factory for essential goods for food preparation and conservation: several species of fishes and mollusks, whose fishing was strictly controlled [4]; birds, attracted by that particular habitat; salt from the vast coastal works; vegetables from the major islands and from the lido.

This was the Lagoon to the Serenissima: the nest where its strength was nurtured and where it became able to compete and to win, to defend itself and to restore itself. To make this possible, the Lagoon had to be preserved; it had to stay as it was even as it changed to different conditions and needs. This accident in nature had to turn into a permanent system.

A permanent system

A permanent system: these two words are the stake of Venice and its lagoon. A system: an organism made of a combination of elements, each one essential and vital, each one bound to the other by precise relationships, which could not be altered ad libitum without bringing the system to collapse. Permanent: able to remain as such in time, managed by the same mutable laws of nature, but subject to further changes created by the surrounding events and by human action.

To make this miracle true, to have the opposing forces of rivers and sea, earth and water cooperating without one prevailing on the other, and at the same time introducing the changes needed to make the lagoon liveable (by deepening a channel or opening a new one, by consolidating an isle, by opening breaches in another) meant to manage the lagoon with a scrupulous administration, based upon daily interventions, continuous surveillance, gradual innovative experiments (a new channel, a new embankment, a new intake) and monitoring of their effects.

Above all, it meant to use the laws of nature with a greater caution than nature itself would have used, because the stake was to make permanent a system that nature itself would eventually eliminate, one way or the other.

All of Venice good administration skills were used at this purpose. As Piero Bevilacqua wrote, the history of Venice is

The history of a success [...] in environment management that has its roots in a strict and long-sighted state action and in century-long daily efforts to restrain private and individual interests in favor of the common benefit of the waters and the city [5]

The lagoon government falls and the world changes

The fall of the Republic of Venice, in the year 1797, was without doubt the most evident cause for change: the end of a unitary administration of the lagoon finalized to that purpose and managed by that system. Greater events had happened which could not find no echo in that water mirror, in that corner of the Adriatic Sea.

The world had changed. Events in London and Paris had transformed the basic conditions for its evolution. The advent and the triumph of the economic and social system based upon the capitalistic model of production and the establishment of the bourgeoisie introduced and generalized completely new ways for regulating the relationships amongst men and between man and nature.

Industrial production was found able to multiply the quantity of available goods, freeing man from the bond of nature’s frugal rhythms. Every product of man or nature became, from an object with individuality and a usage value, a “good”: a mere depot of exchange value, an object which could be traded with any other. Individualism, the strong push under quantitative progress, had slowly erased the community values, especially where those rules were an obstacle to the “right” to privately own the available goods. The techniques for building roads, channels, banks and dams, bridges and new infrastructures were revolutionised by new technologies based upon the use of iron and concrete and the employ of machines instead of human and animal work.

The natural environment, until then respected and held as a partner in man’s project for world transformation and utilization, became mere raw material for a continuous recreation of the given conditions. And the State (which, in Venice, was the advocate of a balanced relationship between man and environment) became in any European country a tool for the affirmation of the capitalistic bourgeoisies, in harsh fight against each one in every other nation: to take control of different “environments” and of different “natures” which were to be exploited, transformed, alienated.

The very notion of time had changed. Measured no more on the long duration of the events, on the rhythms of natural occurrences, on the years-long effect of the more significant transformations (the planting of a forest, the consolidation of a shore, the remodelling of a river system) the unit of time was constantly getting closer to the fragmentation of the day: the hour, the minute, the second. The perspective was no longer the continuation of generations: it was a season of a man’s life, to which other and richer ones had to follow.

The Lagoon changes

You only need to look at a map of the Venice Lagoon to notice the effects of the big transformations which have taken place in people’s conscience and in the world since the fall of the Republic.

When the sheltering umbrella of rules that preserved the proprietary regimes vanished, together with the recognition of the lagoon as a common good, great parts of the lagoon’s territory were privatized and exploited to reap immediate gains. Some parts were drained and converted to fields, some others transformed into basins surrounded by banks (“fishing basins”) where fishing activities could be performed, some others, later, were converted into industrial zones: big portions of the basin were taken away from the waters’ rhythms and from the play of floods and tides. When the area where the greater high tides and the floods of the rivers running into the lagoon could broaden was reduced (by more or less a third in half a century), the floods in inhabited centres increased in frequency and intensity.

A similar effect was caused by the deepening of the major entry channels (designed now like straight roads and no more by accounting for the natural path of the water) and of “bocche di porto” (port mouths) both because of dredges done to allow entry to the bigger ships and simply because the monitoring and maintenance work systematically performed by the Serenissima was not carried on anymore. Huge masses of water flew from the sea to the Lagoon each time the lunar phases, the wind and the atmospheric depression widened the gap between external and internal waters [6].

The effects of the greater intake of saltwater and of the reduction of the expansion basin surface were aggravated by two more events. First, the dismissal of the continuous maintenance work of the channel network in zones more removed from the port mouths made the marginal parts of the lagoon hardly reachable by the tidal wave, further reducing the effective expansion basin. Then, industrial production needs demanded the construction of many layer water pits in the dry land, causing the lowering of the water level and of the solid compact stratum of clay (the “caranto”) which sustains the mud and the sand upon which Venice and the other lagoon towns are built.

The collapse and its effects

On the 4th of November 1966 the joint effect of river floods and exceptional high tide made the water rise to an abnormally high level for many hours. The water reached almost 200 cm above the average sea level, while its average height on the streets and on the ground floors in houses and shops was between 100 and 150 cm. Many cried for catastrophe. The world public opinion was moved, fearing that Venice was disappearing into the waters: if not then, in a future not very far away.

There were debates, there were studies, people understood and tried to do something. The long pre-legislative work which was carried on between Rome and the Lagoon, with the timely backing of major newspapers, and which ended with the parliamentary discussion about law 171/1973, came to a new awareness of the problem, of its causes, of its possible solutions.

It was understood that any further reduction of the lagoon area had to be banned, and that studies were to be performed in order to restore the previous extension. The devastating initiative for building a new giant “industrial third zone”, bigger than the two already existing, was definitely cancelled: the “casse di colmata” (filling caissons) already built had to be abandoned to the play of the tides.

In more general terms, the State took the task of ensuring the “regulation of the lagoon sea levels, in order to save the urban dwellings from the high waters” through “works that respect the hydro-geologic, ecologic and environmental values and by no means could hinder or compromise the maintenance of the lagoon’s physical unity and continuity” [7].

The hypothesis of controlling the saltwater intake by the port mouths through fixed or mobile throttles was made, but this solution was completed by a mosaic of many other pieces. It was prescribed that, in technical solution designs, “the effect of opening the fishing basins to the tidal expansion on hydrodynamic regimes” was to be taken into account and that it was necessary to work for “the reduction of tidal resistances in the lagoon north zone” to “restore the seabeds in S.Nicolò channel and in the mouths of Malamocco and Chioggia, now deeply eroded, to normal levels” by augmenting “the energy dissipations of the tidal flux along the path inside the port-channels” [8].

A systemic vision and an engineer’s vision

It was the start of the recognition that the Lagoon was a system, and it had to be managed as such. It was not by accident that the task of preparing a series of territorial solutions for the area was appointed to a local plan of “cities of the Venice and Chioggia lagoon”.

The plan was promptly prepared, but it never came to the final approval. In place of the management unit of the Serenissima, the clumsy Italian Republic could only put up a fuzzy mechanism, expression of the contrasting (and therefore paralyzing) forces of towns and Region, and, moreover, under the Region’s final control. That mechanism did not work, because it could never have worked.

But, beside it, the State and the Ministry of Public Works (and its local operating arm, which was what the ancient and glorious “Magistrato delle Acque”, Water Magistrate, had become) were acting upon their logics. The project later known as Mo.S.E. (Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico, Electromechanical Experimental Module) was outlined and designed, together with the constitution of the private company to which the State was to delegate powers, competences and public resources in order to study, design and carry out the necessary works.

While the State was pursuing a path that can only be called former-century (as I will explain later) and the Region was sinking the Plan, the City of Venice was getting ready to dialectically work with other subjects inside its limited institutional competences (and its not negligible politic powers). On the city government side, even with the smallest resources, studies and analysis on the Lagoon were perfected.

The restoration of the lagoon ecosystem

Especially relevant was a study called “Restoring, preserving and using the lagoon ecosystem” [9]. After pointing out how the degenerating process in the lagoon was erasing its specific characters and after describing the tendencies at work and their causes, the document drew a general picture of needed interventions.

After taking into account that “the defence of the lagoon and of the human dwellings from exceptional high waters has to be undertaken through the implementation of specific movable bars for temporary – but complete – shutting of the port mouths”, the document says that

“to block and reverse the degenerative tendency at work and to put the lagoon area into a situation where its environmental evolutionary processes can be continuously controlled it is necessary to put into work a set of coordinated decisions which are here listed:

- banning further layer withdrawals in order to stop the human-generated lowering;

- restoring the ability to control the tidal fluxes in the lagoon, acting upon the present asset of the port mouths, of the water propagation system, of the tidal expansion area, in order to attain a reduction of the water volumes exchanged between sea and rivers (without negative consequences for the quality of lagoon water, with reference to the antipollution works) and to mitigate the dynamics of the lagoon water, achieving a reduction of the erosion process and a decrease of the tidal heights and widths, and therefore of the frequency of the high-waters phenomenon;

- preservation of the shores, starting from Pellestrina, reorganizing their structure, carrying out works against the coastal erosion, restoring natural ways of coastal transportation and refurbishing the lidi and the sea beds, artificially if necessary;

- determining usages and ways of use compatible with the different parts of the lagoon area, of the shores, of the dry land;

- controlling and reducing water and air pollution” [10].

An echo of the results of this approach resonates in the law formulation that, after a long and passionate parliamentary debate, integrated in 1984 the special law of 1973. In this law, in fact, the interventions were declared to be aimed at:

“the rebalancing of the lagoon, the arrest and the inversion of the degradation process of the lagoon basin, the removal of the causes that affected it, the decrease of the tidal levels inside the lagoon, the defence through local intervention of the cities’ insulae (isles), the protection of lagoon urban dwellings against exceptional high waters, if necessary by means of movable dams at the port mouths in order to control tides” [11].

A dynamic agreement

The law looked as the result of a compromise between two different ways of thinking, as described by Luigi Scano: one believes that the lagoon is “a regular water basin driven by mechanical laws” and the other “views the lagoon as a delicate and complex ecosystem, driven by laws that – by a small stretch – are more akin to cybernetics, and is more interested in the preservation and the global restoration of its basic features as a transition zone between sea and dry land, through a coordinated set of diffused interventions” [12].

Not by accident, the port mouths devices, the “faucets” through which the sea water flux could be controlled, were, as the law dictated, one (and the first) of a series of interventions that had to be scheduled and, systematically, performed. But it was not so. Sometimes the power of the legislator is smaller than the power of those who enforce the laws. The execution of the law was appointed to the Ministry of Public Works which was, in those years, strongly in the hands of those forces (the PSDI – social democrats – of Franco Nicolazzi, the part of the PSI – socialists – which followed Craxi and the powerful De Michelis, relevant parts of DC – christian democrats) who passionately sponsored the “mechanicistic” view and the “faucets” solution.

Since then, the debate about Venice and its lagoon had reduced to a debate about MoSE. And the greater parts of the (public) funds invested in preserving of the lagoon went to that extraordinary colossus (and institutional monster) which is the Consorzio Venezia Nuova (New Venice Consortium). But we will talk about this later; let’s see first what the MoSE is.

What is the MoSE

The MoSE (Experimental Electro mechanic Module) is, in summary, a system composed by 79 big metal caissons, whose larger surface measures more than 20x20 meters, divided in four sets by the three port mouths: 21+20 by the Bocca di Lido, 20 by Malamocco, 18 by Chioggia. Each caisson is hinged to a big concrete underwater structure and, normally, it is filled with water. According to the project, any time the weather forecasts suggest that the tide level is about to exceed the desired height (generally 100cm above the average sea level) a pumping system should inflate the caissons, which should raise and put an obstacle to the intake of sea water.

The system demands several subsidiary and accessory works, which in total would require the transportation of 5 millions cube meters of raw materials, the insertion of 12.055 concrete poles measuring between 10 and 19 meters down to a depth of -42,5 meters, of 5.960 metal palancole (movable bars) measuring between 10 and 28 meters, of 157 enormous caissons in reinforced concrete, of 560.000 square meters of stones, and, in the end, the construction of an artificial isle measuring 135.000 square meters, with buildings high 4 to 10 meters and a 20 meters smokestack.

Criticisms to MoSE

The project stirred many articulated criticisms. It received an ample and articulated negative verdict by the Government Commission (ministers Ronchi and Melandri) which was appointed with the task of evaluating its environmental impact [13]; it was then fought at length by the Venice City Council, from which an ambiguous final evaluation was extorted by means of a twisted interpretation (a tipical feat of italian poor politics [14]). The criticisms are summarized in several documents by the Venice section of Italia Nostra. They can be summarized by a relatively small number of points:

The project would cause certain and measurable damages to the lagoon environment, both in the lengthy building phase –unique places of great beauty would be destroyed, like the dunes in Ca’Roman and Alberoni and the Secca del Bacan - and through the final designed transformations; it should suffice to consider that the giant submerged structures which should hinge the caissons would sever the natural continuity between the lagoon bed and the sea bed in the only three segments remaining since the lagoon formation.

The project would shelter the inhabited places only from high tides of marine origin, not from river floods (to which regard, it would instead be an obstacle to water defluxion). It should be noted that during the 1996 exceptional events, the rivers’ overflow was decisive, and today the hydraulic conditions are even worse. The project would then be not only useless to the very purpose it should serve for, it would be dangerous.

The designed system would react to events (high tides in excess of 110 cm) whose frequency is absolutely unknown. If the 110 cm limit were to be trespassed frequently (one of the formulated hypothesis allows for 400 times a year) the lagoon would become a closed basin and the pollution would became deadly [15], moreover the port would stop functioning. If the oceans level were to rise for more than 30 cm, the system would become obsolete and the caissons would be bypassed by the tides [16].

The project implementation is exceedingly costly (estimates are growing year by year: lately they have reached 7-8.000 millions of euros). But what is really surprising is that no-one knows how much the management of this composite mechanism will cost, nor is it known who will be appointed for its building, nor who will pay for it, and how. We only have to consider that every year something between 10 and 35 kg of biological encrustations deposit on a one square meter of metal caisson, and it can be removed only by disassembling huge parts and by cleaning them on-land.

The project is dangerous to the general equilibrium of the lagoon for two more reasons too. It is estimated that it would release 12 tons of zinc per year on account of the anodic anticorrosion protection of the paratoie (movable bars); this is the 50% of the whole sustainable load of the whole lagoon basin, and zinc accumulates in the food cycle. Moreover, it is estimated that the further deepening of the channels, as required by the project, and the consequent more intense water exchange with the sea, would cause a significantly increased erosion of the lagoon bed: thus a permanent drain of the very substance that, together with water, the Lagoon is made of.

The fundamental errors of the MoSE system

Beyond any specific criticism, it seems to me that two fundamental critiques are to be moved to the designed system.

First of all, the project is centred upon only one of the goals that should be pursued: the reduction of the effect of exceptional high tides on inhabited centres. Let’s forget for a moment that even this goal does not seem reachable with acceptable confidence (notwithstanding the exceedingly high cost, not even wholly determined); the system deems as irrelevant all other damages done to the lagoon ecosystem, it does not thwart them [17] and, at the contrary, it quite magnifies them. So, for instance, instead of aiming for a reduction of the greater channels’ beds that bring the seawater – which would drastically reduce the effects of high tides – they are going to be deepened and widened. Moreover, these transformations would be irreversible, as they would be done through huge works in concrete.

This means that every other intervention in order to restore the equilibrium of the lagoon ecosystem (from the refurbishing of the inner lagoon to the reopening of the fishing basins, from the maintenance of the lesser channel network to the replanting of damaged vegetation and so on) becomes marginal and insufficiently funded, with no assurance of continuity and regularity.

In second place, this goal is pursued through techniques that to call hard and heavy would be an understatement. Techniques that are anyway far away from the “gradualism, experimentability and reversibility” criteria that the Serenissima Repubblica of Venice had pursued for centuries and that the national culture had understood as being the key words for the survival of the Lagoon, and that the Italian Parliament inserted into the legislative corpus [18]. It is impossible to understand what, in the proposed system, is gradual, experimental and, above all, reversible.

A simplified, mechanical, technicistic, stiff, partial solution, where reality and history call for a compound, systemic, flexible and manageable solution: the only one that would suit the living body of the Lagoon, reductively viewed by the MoSE promoters as just a big bathtub with three faucets.

An ideological root…

These kind of mistakes have two roots, a cultural and ideological root and an institutional one.

We could define the MoSE system as the last song of that 18th century ideology that tried to solve the dialectic conflicts between human society and nature by means of heavy substitution of natural environments with artificial elements. Every time the former were an obstacle to a need - be it real or made up - of society. The human intervention, that is, as a demiurgic substitution to nature. Substitution of nature’s laws with construction techniques, with mechanics, with the power of related technologies. Or, better, as the nature’s laws cannot be eliminated by decree, a progressive reduction of the area where natural laws prevail and a progressive expansion of the area where techniques (and concrete, iron, tar…) dominate. In the end, the planet division into two areas, strictly delimited, one subject to technique and the other to nature.

How much this demiurgic ideology is illusory, in this late-18thcentury revival, we are reminded every year as events increasingly devastate larger regions of the planet. The events of the Venice Lagoon have announced it, in that far 1966. It seemed that the people who manage the Lagoon (mostly from cities far away from it) had understood. And so it was, for a period of time too short to have a significant effect. The Great Works are fashionable once again. For reasons that are not only ideological, but very much material too. To understand this let’s see the other side: the institutions.

The institutional root

The main character of the whole operation (research, experimentation, design, implementation) for the preservation of the Lagoon is not a public authority, a “piece of the State”. It is a consortium of private industries: mostly building companies. The most relevant are Impregilo Spa (39.4%), Grandi Lavori Fincosit (16.65%), Società Italiana Condotte d’Acqua (2.5%), ENI group’s SAIPEM (2.5%), Mazzi Scarl (1.85%). The remainder is made of some sub-consortiums that gather minor companies.

Through a series of passages and administrative acts, these pool of companies is appointed with an extraordinary and uncommon set of tasks: it is the State’s exclusive agent for the study, the experimentation, the design and the implementation of the Lagoon preservation works, all financed by public funds. The resources given to this institutional Monstrum are so extraordinarily huge that it had the possibility to have a real monopoly upon research and promotion of the devised solutions.

All attempts to bring before international courts the anomaly of such a large appointment being given without a proper call for tender (and by this reason out of all competition rules) have been deftly averted. Italia Nostra filed an appeal to the European Committee in July 1998. The appeal was accepted and a proceeding for infraction of European directives was appointed to the Italian Government.

But, after an interlocutory phase, the European Committee chose a political solution to the matter and closed the procedure with a settlement. Even if the matter complexity was acknowledged and the Committee admitted not having any certainties, it tried to solve the question with a stretched solution. The decision was, the Consortium would sub-contract a part of future works through a public competition organized by the Consortium itself. The management of works at the port mouths (MoSE) was left to the Consorzio Venezia Nuova, which is still the agent for the most delicate and debated interventions for the preservation of the lagoon.

In the Lagoon a power has been actually created, stronger than any other in the area, for which the mission of the most relevant actors (the totality of the Consortium members) is to raise the business volume, and therefore the quality of the works to carry on and the materials to employ (iron, steel, concrete). In such a frame, the Consortium work will hardly be able to get inspired by those knowledges, those technical procedures, that wise balance of experimentation, graduality and reversibility that centuries of administrative wisdom had distilled and that Italian politics (in a phase far from its highest, but infinitely higher than the current one) had understood and embraced.

Possible alternatives

The things to do are long known [19].

In first place, the sea water intake has to be reduced, bringing the shapes of the port mouths and of the access channels back to conditions compatible with the sustainable navigation inside the Lagoon. This crucial intervention clearly contrasts with the needs of oil traffic, which should be banned (as the law dictates since 1973), and the continuing passage of the huge cruising ships. It would also imply the need to seriously deal with the problem of reducing pollution, especially land based source pollution.

The risk of river floods, which highly contributed to the exceptional high water in 1966, has also to be reduced. The control of water sources in the whole basin surrounding the lagoon is a task which has been planned for years, and in part already been funded.

Works must then be undertaken so that the living lagoon can take back at least a part of the spaces which have been subtracted during the last century: besides the “casse di colmata” of the intended Third Industrial Zone (that is, vast lagoon areas already drained but still not utilized by the industries) the fishing basins must be opened back to currents, replacing the dirt banks with the traditional grids that can let tidal water pass through, and the maintenance works to the channel network must be restarted.

The relationship between earth and water in the lagoon morphology must be restored, protecting and recovering the “barene” (solid formations which rise and sink from time to time due to the play of the tides) eroded by the wave motion and by the increased hydrodynamic of the lagoon basin, through natural engineering techniques very different from the hard ones employed by the Consorzio Venezia Nuova, leading back into the lagoon basin, in a controllable and reversible way, part of the rivers flood, in order to stop the erosion process with the help of debris accumulation.

The systematic work, long started by a relevant city company, to locally protect the island inhabited areas by elevating the Venice pavement by 110/120 cm must be continued. This work could bring to an end the discomfort caused to the inhabitants by the high water phenomenon.

Finally, proposals different from MoSE to further reduce the intake of sea water, in case of exceptionally high tides, must be studied in depth. Ideas and proposals have been put forward in the last years. The fact that those projects have not been studied as in depth as MoSE is another evidence of the basic mistake: to have appointed a single actor, in absolute monopoly conditions, with huge public funds to study, experiment and implement a project, in the only interest of the Consorzio members. Members who are, let’s not forget it, building companies: mostly noteworthy companies, of course, but whose mission, whose culture and whose interests are far different from the ones required to deal with the Lagoon problem with coherence and continuity with the tradition, and therefore with the safeguard of a universal good.

[1]Venice, Chioggia, Campagna Lupia, Mira, Quarto d'Altino, Codevigo, Iesolo, Musile and, today, Cavallino.

[2]Venice, Padua, Treviso, Vicenza.

[3] See: Bevilacqua P.(1995), Venezia e le acque (Venice and the waters), Donzelli, Roma, in particular pages 85 and following; I. Cacciavillani (1984), Le leggi veneziane sul territorio 1471-1789. Boschi, fiumi, navigazioni (Venetian territorial laws 1471-1789. Woods, rivers, navigation), Signum, Limena.

[4] In many Venice sites can still be seen, near the Piscine (fish markets) the marble plates stating the minimum sizes of every species for sale.

[5] P. Bevilacqua cit., p. 21.

[6] “During the first years of the 18th century the depth of the three port mouths was between -3.5 and -4.5 meters […] At the end of the 18th century the depth reached -7 m by the Lido and -10 m by Malamocco. In the last century the rapidly rising port industry and the expansion of industrial activities needed sea beds even deeper. Excavation works were started that brought the Malamocco mouth at -14.5 m and the Vittorio Emanuele channel (-10 m) and Malamocco-Marghera channel (-14.5 m) and Oil channel (-14.5 m), that traverse the Lagoon like a deep wound, were traced. The great mass of water that enters the Lagoon now through these deep inputs, as it was to be expected, started autoerosion processes: in 1997 the Malamocco mouth reached -17 m. Again in Malamocco, inside the mouth, is now the deepest point in the Adriatic sea: 57 m!” From a summary of data published by several official sources and edited for the Italia Nostra / Venice section website (http://www.provincia.venezia.it/italianostra/3laguna/)

[7]Law 16th April 1973, n. 171, article 12, comma 2, letter a)

[8] Directions for the setup of the comprehensive plan of Venice, approved by the ministry council in the 27 march 1975 session.

[9] City Council of Venice, Ripristino, conservazione ed uso dell’ecosistema lagunare (Restoration, conservation and use of the lagoon ecosystem), Venezia 1982. Written by Corrado Avanzi, Valentino Fossato, Paolo Gatto, Riccardo Rabagliati, Paolo Rosa Salva, Andreina Zitelli, with the help of Giampaolo Rallo, Roberto Stevanato; co-ordinators Augusto Ghetti, Roberto Passino. The document was the foundation for Osservazioni del Comune di Venezia al progetto di piano comprensoriale (VeniceCity Council remarks about the comprehensorial plan project), Venezia 1982, where the following quotes are taken from.

[10]Osservazioni del Comune di Venezia cit.

[11]Law 29 novembre 1984 n. 798, 3.1.a).

[12] Luigi Scano, Venezia: Terra e acqua (Venice: Earth and water), Edizioni delle autonomie, Roma 1985

[13]Text available on http//eddyburg.it

[14] The Council majority approved a document that imposed eleven mandatory conditions. Should these conditions be accepted, the project would have had been totally reviewed. The Mayor presented the document to the special Committee appointed to approve the project. The Committee rejected the most significant “conditions” and only accepted mere recommendations for the implementation phase!

[15] Keep in mind that all town sewers flow into the lagoon, and depuration is done today through the tidal water exchange.

[16] The Intergovernamental Panel of Climate Change estimation of rise of average sea level are between +9 and +88 cm, most probably +48 cm. MoSE is based on the forecast of a maximum increase of only +22 cm. Paolo Antonio Pirazzoli, (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Meudon, France), “Did the Italian Government Approve an Obsolete Project to Save Venice?”, in Eos,Transactions, American Geophysical Union , Vol. 83, No. 20,14 May 2002, pp 217-223.

[17] And when it intervenes on the rest of the Lagoon its techniques and results are very much criticisable

[18] Law 798 of 1984. It should be reminded that a further special legislative measure, law 139 of 1992, states that, before the construction of MoSE could be started, the hydraulic balance of the lagoon must be restored, the oil traffic must be banned and the fishing valleys must be opened.

[19] A comprehensive summary of the proposed interventions can be found at the website http://www.provincia.venezia.it/italianostra/3laguna/3laguna.htm, and in the document La salvaguardia di venezia dalle acque alte. Un piano di azione strategico alternativo al Mo.S.E. (The safeguard of Venice from high waters. A strategic plan in alternative to MoSE), by the Venice Section of Italia Nostra and the Committee Salvare Venezia e la Laguna (Save Venice and its Lagoon), January 2003.

21 Agosto 2005

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