Italy: Famous Venice canals left dried up and muddy amid drought fears

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The carless Italian city of Venice is famed for its canals – but some of the iconic waterways have nearly dried up.

A dragged-out spell of low tides has left tourists bewildered and emergency services worried this week as boats lie abandoned in shallow, muddy waterways.

The 150 canals effectively serve as roads for Venetians, meaning some ambulance crews are having to dock further away and get to people on foot.

Gondolas and other water boats, meanwhile, are now unable to sail under the lagoon city’s picture-postcard bridges, threatening tourism.

Many of the city’s smaller canals have dried up (Picture: MEGA)
Officials point to a prolonged low tide season as behind the disappearing canals (Picture: MEGA)
Some rivers have become muddy pits (Picture: MEGA)
Venice usually struggles with the opposite problem: flooding (Picture: MEGA)

City officials say water levels have dropped to 26 inches below the average sea level.

They point to a high-pressure weather system – known as an anticyclone – that’s crawling across Europe as causing the waterways to run dry.

While according to the Centro Maree forecast centre, a lack of rain, a full moon and sea currents are keeping the canal levels closer to the ground.

Venice usually sees low tides in January and February as the high atmospheric pressure and lunar cycle produce low water levels during ebb tide.

But just how long these low tides have dragged out for is unusual, city officials and weather experts say.

The city’s larger canals such as the Giudecca and Grand canals have enough water to allow boats to travel across, but the smaller ones have been emptied.

Lovals expecting the dreamy sites of gondolas gliding along the canals have been left shocked (Picture: AP)
Ambulance boats have been forced to dock far away from patients as waterways have vanished (Picture: AP)
Some boats are barely bobbing in the withering waters (Picture: MvS/SWNS)

Venice, built atop some 120 islands, isn’t usually worried about running out of water. Scientists expect it to be underwater by 2100 due to climate change.

It’s the opposite problem, flooding, that has devasted Venice in the past.

Weeks of dry winter weather have fuelled fears that Italy might face once again a severe drought, the kind that brought last summer’s state of emergency.

And the signs for this are all there, warn the Italian environmental group Legambiente.

Rivers like the Po, which supports the country’s agriculture, and lakes including Lake Como have seen unusually low water levels, the group says.

Last year, Po suffered its worst drought in seven decades, leading to farmers losing billions.

Right now, the river has 61% less water than it usually has at this time of the year.

This photograph shows a general view of snow cannons operating due to lack of snow at the Peyragudes ski resort, southwestern France on January 5, 2023. (Photo by Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP) (Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP via Getty Images)

Some ski operators along the Alps have resorted to fake snow as snowfall dwindles (Picture: AFP)

While northern regions along the Alps have received less than half of their normal snowfall as climate change tightens its grip on northern Italy.

In a bizarre scene, the usually submerged path linking the shores of Lake Garda to San Biagio island re-surfaced this week.

‘2023 has only just begun, but it’s showing worrying signs in terms of extreme weather events and levels of drought,’ Legambiente said in a Facebook post on Monday.

‘Lakes and rivers are severely suffering, almost as dry as last summer, while in the mountains there is little accumulated snow.’

From dwindling crops to a loss of biodiversity and water scarcity, Legambiente said this year’s prolonged drought could be devastating.

‘We must act immediately,’ the group added.

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