ROME, Italy – Business hasn’t dried up, but some of Venice’s famous gondoliers have had to limit their movements in recent weeks as water levels in some of the Italian city’s smaller canals plunged due to unusually low tides.
Andrea Balbi, a gondolier, told NBC News on Thursday, “We’ve had four exceptionally low tides, and each time the water was so low in some of the canals that we had to wade through them.”
He said, “I’ve been a gondolier for 28 years and I’ve never seen tides so low all at once.”
Worse, he said some of the gondolas that were “parked” got stuck in the water and mud moves “and had to wait for the tide to rise again to get them out.”
In some cases even ambulance boats have been tied up far from their destination, forcing medical crews to carry stretchers by hand as their ships cannot proceed further in the canals.
The effects of the unusually dry winter are visible everywhere in Italy, where there is little snow for skiers on the Alps and lakes and river levels are normally seen at the end of summer.
And in Venice, some of the city’s canals have been nearly dry for the past three weeks.
Experts say the prolonged stretch of ebb tides is linked to a high-pressure weather system over much of Italy.
“Low water levels in Venice are unheard of, especially at this time of year,” said Giovanni Cecconi, a climatologist based in Venice. “The lunar cycle and high pressure have created low tides in the past. But it’s usually only lasted a few days. This time it’s lasted weeks.
Luigi Cavallari, a researcher at the city’s Institute of Marine Sciences, said 20 days of high pressure over the Mediterranean Sea also contributed to the lower waters.
While the lowest tide for the month was 70 cm (about 28 in) below mean sea level, it still has some way to go to beat the record set on February 14, 1934, when the lowest tide was 121 cm (47.6 in). was recorded. ) below sea level.
That’s a remarkable difference for the lagoon city, which has battled flooding for centuries, leading some experts to worry that rising sea levels will submerge the city.
In 2020 the multibillion-dollar project known as Moss – a system of mobile flood barriers capable of isolating Venice’s lagoon at high tide – has, however, solved the problem of flooding.
Cecconi, who serves as director of the moss control room, said it could be used to keep water inside.
“During low tide we can use barriers to prevent water from flowing out of the lagoon,” he said.
Meanwhile, the gondoliers are doing the best they can.
Balbi said the main problem was getting and taking customers on the gondola. He said the height between the boats and the dock was deterring some people.
The restaurant’s manager, Giovanni Fracassi, said that the gap between his steps and the water made it impossible to enter through the canal. “They had no choice but to walk to the street entrance instead,” he said.
However, Claudio Scarpa, director general of the Venetian hoteliers’ association, said the low tide had brought some benefits.
“This is the only time we can visit both Venetian and tourist monuments that are usually under water, such as the crypt in the Church of San Zaccaria,” he said.