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Sinking Venice is trying a new solution: dams to control tides

Venice / Last year St. Mark's square was flooded more than 90 times

By Paul Brown, Guardian

Venice. A team of experts from Britain was recently called to save Venice, which has been steadily sinking for centuries and suffers from repeated flooding. A system of special dams that will be built around the Italian city, one of the most touristic in the world, is supposed to solve the problem - but creates other problems. The team of experts, led by David Patterson from the University of St. Andrews, will begin in August to implement the plan, which is estimated to last until 2007 and cost approximately $2.9 billion.

The dam system will include 79 gates, each weighing about 300 tons. The gates will activate the dams in case a high tide threatens the city.
The system will be operated using measures such as remote sensing techniques and satellite images, which will constantly monitor the water level and the animals in the Venice lagoon. Some fear that the construction of the dams will damage the lagoon, and above all that this will increase the stench in the famous water channels, because it is the tidal water that washes and cleans them. Patterson says about this: "Our first task is to understand the way the lagoon behaves, before the gates are installed. When we have the data, we will be able to offer solutions to the problem."

"There are other plans to build barriers, for example dams made of artificial earth, which will stop the waves. I also have an idea for a plan to establish 'floating swamps' around the city," says Patterson. "It will not stop the rising tide, but they will break the waves, which cause most of the damage. This can be a very cheap and effective project."

The city was originally built on wooden pillars that sank over time into the mud, and it still rests on them. Paintings documenting the water line near the buildings show that the tide line is 80 cm higher today than it was 200 years ago.

Last year, St. Mark's Square, the lowest and most famous place in Venice, was flooded more than 90 times. In all the twenties of the last century, however, the square was flooded only 60 times.

The fear of flooding drives the city's residents away, and in the past fifty years the population of the old city has halved, and the trend is still continuing. Against the background of global warming, Venice's problems are expected to worsen.
"Ultimately we won't be able to prevent the sunset of Venice, but we can slow down the process," says Patterson. "We hope that for now at least, we will be able to stop the flooding in the city and enjoy it a little more."

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