The Italian government has given the go-ahead to a project to protect Venice from increasingly high tides that periodically flood the city. The so-called "Moses" project has been under discussion for years with scientists endorsing it and environmentalists criticizing it.
The debate on how to save Venice from sinking has been going on for years. Venetians wearing galoshes and wading through a flooded Saint Mark's Square has become an increasingly common sight.
The problem is that Venice has been sinking for centuries and the Adriatic Sea is rising.
Scientists say flooding takes place in Venice four times more often than it did a century ago. When the tides push the sea level one meter higher than usual, as happened 80 times last year, 12 percent of Venice is flooded.
The flooding has prompted many Venetians to sell their homes and move elsewhere. Today, Venice's population is half what it was 35 years ago.
Shop-owners and residents have staged demonstrations in the lagoon city demanding that the government deal with the problem. But the frequent changes in Italian governments and criticism by environmental groups, claiming the city would be harmed by stagnant lagoon water if barriers were constructed, had until now, blocked any project to save Venice.
But in the near future, Venice is going to see some dramatic changes. The center-right Italian government has finally given the green light to what is called the "Moses" project, named for the Biblical Jewish leader who led his people safely through the Red Sea. The project is estimated to cost more than two-billion dollars.
"Moses" will be a series of mobile barriers attached to the sea bed at the three watery entrances of the lagoon city. The barriers will rise up when high tides threaten the city and protect it from flooding. A government spokesman said construction of the barriers is expected to start as soon as possible.
For Giancarlo Galan, President of the Veneto region, the government's approval of the project is considered "historic." He had predicted that a positive decision would make "the whole world applaud and only makers of galoshes sad."
Mr. Galan campaigned hard for approval, saying the Moses project is necessary to make Venice "a place where it is possible to live." Following the government's decision, Mr. Galan said the mobile barriers should be in operation by 2009.