For the second year in a row, low tides in Venice have sunk to such record levels that it has left the city almost entirely without water. Visitors who came to the city expecting to ride gondolas through the city’s famous blue-green canals have found their plans foiled, as without water many of the city’s primary transport have been left grounded on the canals’ muddy beds.
The exceptionally low water levels have been caused by abnormal tides this year, combined with drastically reduced rainfall across northeastern Italy. Although low tides are common around this time of the year, this year the water levels have gone down some 70 cm below average. The phenomenon is surprising given that Venice is slowly sinking and floods are a more common feature of the city today than low tides.
The low water levels have exposed the city’s filth. Years of poor maintenance on the city's waterways is showing through the buildup of large banks of mud and silt around the canals' edges, drastically reducing the canals’ depth and increasing the likelihood of propellers snagging on floating junk. The lower than normal water levels have also exposed the crumbling brickwork at the base of historic buildings.
Venetian authorities have always shown a lackadaisical attitude when it came to canal maintenance. Dredging of the canals first started in recent times in the late 1990s, after almost half-a-century of neglect. The city also lacks a modern sewage system. Historically, all waste produced by humans have been dumped into the canals although larger buildings are required to carry some kind of sewage treatment before dumping the filthy stuff into the canals. Some palazzos have their own septic tanks but there is always a certain amount of leakage, lending Venice its characteristic and at times overpowering stench.
In recent years, Venice city council has been spending less and less on canal maintenance, diverting the funds instead towards the completion of the €5.4 billion MOSE tide gates that will protect the Venetian lagoon from the frequent flood tides that has been plaguing the city. For fifty years through 1970s, industries in the area recklessly pumped ground water from underground aquifers and the city slumped by some 9 inches. The sinking has subsided significantly in the past few decades, but it's still sinking at the rate of 1-2mm per year. Under these circumstances, drying up of the city’s canals is most unusual.
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