THE ITALIAN GOVERNMENT HAS approved the construction of a US$2.3B system of flood gates to protect Venice.

The Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico project (MOSE) involves using a string of 79 inflatable gates to prevent the flow of water into Venice’s lagoon through its three inlets.

The gates are to be inflated when the local sea level rises due to high tides, an event that occurs about 50 times each year.

In 1966, parts of the city were flooded when the water level rose by 1.8m, while in November 2000 the city was affected when the tide rose by 1.3m.

The proposed gates are to be designed to handle a water level rise of up to 2m.

Each gate is 20m wide, 20 to 30m high and between four and five metres thick. When the water level is normal, the gates will be submerged, full of water, at the bottom of the lagoon at each inlet. However, if the tide level rises by 1m or more, air will be pumped into each gate, causing one end to float upwards and block the passage of the water into the lagoon.

The project has, however, been opposed by environmental groups who argue that restrictions of the flow may damage the ecological system.