By: Josh Taylor
The MOSE project in Venice represents incredible foresight and amazing technological goals.
Venice faces a serious problem of flooding due in part to its natural placement and the effects of climate change. Venice sinks every year due to subsidence, where the soil moves beneath the ground and causes areas to destabilize or fall. At the same time, the sea levels around the world are rising. These two effects compound one another, where the coastal Venice is sinking as the waters around it are rising, producing worse flooding year after year.
The city is prepared in a way that there are alarms, sirens all over the city, no matter if it’s day or night to warn the population that the water is rising that day, and then the people react accordingly. My brother has a store, and they have a special gate, basically a metal plank that he has to put in the front of the store to avoid the water coming in during the surge.
The Venetian government has put into place reactive solutions where citizens are warned of incoming floods, which can come at any time during the day or the night, and have to take their own precautions to prevent damage to their property. This can be as simple as having water tight entrances to homes, which are then barricaded against the forces of floods. This is an adaptive lifestyle though, one which puts stress onto the people to protect themselves from a changing environment, or face ruin. So the city has devised a proactive solution to the flooding problems of Venice, the MOSE project.
The Adriatic Sea feeds into Venice through three lagoons. The MOSE project aims to create responsive sea walls which can rise out of each of these lagoons, sealing off the areas from the sea. They can be imagined like inflatable temporary dams. While dormant, the gates are filled with water so that they lie underwater, but when an incoming flood is detected over a particular threshold, the gates fill with air and rise above the water.
The idea is elegantly simple, damming off Venice when it would be flooded, but faces complex engineering challenges. The Adriatic is a saltwater sea, which corrodes materials and electronics, so trying to build a permanent responsive structure in such an environment represents a possibly insurmountable task. Given time, water will easily carve out structures like the Grand Canyon. The Adriatic is even harsher than the waters flowing through the Canyon. The engineers at MOSE maintain that they are confident the gates can withstand the conditions.
The scale is also unprecedented in a civil project, currently costing over 7 billion euros. But that wasn’t the original scale.
When MOSE was first proposed, back in 2002, it was estimated to cost only 1.6 billion euros. It was expected to be completed in 2011. It is now projected to be completed, assuming no further setbacks, by 2022.
These discrepancies have caused a litany of problems for the project. culminating in a 2014 arrest of the Venetian mayor at the time. Giorgio Orsoni was accused of funneling money appropriated for the construction of the MOSE dams for campaign funds. He was indicted along with 35 other politicians, with even more being placed under investigation for misuse of funds.
This financial disaster also led to an engineering disaster, as the components have sat in salty air and water, they have begun to degrade and become nonoperational. Though they were claimed to be resilient, many of the gates already installed are nonfunctional due to the effects of the Adriatic, with repair costs estimated in the millions of euros. After those repairs, the maintenance on the dams will be an additional hundred million euros. The dams face one more problem that is greatest of all:
They won’t work
They also aren’t designed to work. The dams will only emerge from the sea when flood conditions are detected in excess of 110 cm. For Venice however, damaging flooding regularly occurs at 80 cm. This was a design choice to only confront severe flooding, so this massive project still leaves Venetians being forced to create personal, reactive plans to flooding.
 “MOSE Project, Venice, Venetian Lagoon.” Water Technology, http://www.water-technology.net/projects/mose-project/.
 Water Technology
 Giovanni, Roberto. “Venice and MOSE: Story of a Failure.” La Stampa, 12 Oct. 2017, http://www.lastampa.it/2017/10/12/esteri/venice-and-mose-story-of-a-failure-2XRaxsCgFhcmKEXidalyxJ/pagina.html.
 Squires, Nick. “Mayor of Venice arrested on lagoon barrier project corruption charges”. The Telegraph. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/italy/10875534/Mayor-of-Venice-arrested-on-lagoon-barrier-project-corruption-charges.html 4 June 2014