Venice canals are drying up as oddly low tides continue, damaging the tourist trade and causing obstructions.

Central Venice is car-less, with only pedestrian plazas and an intricate grid-work of canals for transportation. Even emergency services in this area are rendered by boat.

Venice is used to low tides during winter, when high atmospheric pressure and the lunar cycle work together to bring the water levels down low. But this year, both factors have been more extreme than usual. A high-pressure weather system has lingered over most of Italy since December, and super low winter tides have combined with that to drain all the water from many of Venice’s shallowest canals.

Also contributing is the fact that the Alps, from which flow the Po and Piave rivers which both reach the sea in Venice, have seen very little snowfall since 2020. That means both rivers are critically low

“We are in a water deficit situation that has been building up since the winter of 2020-2021,” said Massimiliano Pasqui, an Italian climate expert for the National Research Council of Italy. “We need to recover 500mm in the north-western regions: we need 50 days of rain.”

Venice canals are more used to struggling with high water than low – the city has seen more than 40 flooding events in the past ten years. But dry canals means emergency boats cannot reach medical and fire emergencies, means air can cause ancient wood and brick to rot, and are throwing a heavy wrench into popular tourist activities like gondolas. Most of Venice’s historic and picturesque bridges, a major attraction for the city, are over smaller side canals which are currently inaccessible.

According to Jane Da Mosto, an environmental scientist with a Venice environmental advocacy group, the low water levels are also revealing how overdue many of the inner canals are for cleaning, deep in muck and refuse.

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