Vittorio il gondoliere is worried. As he poled us along the back canals, he got excited and voluble in response to Susana's questions, delighted to have found a passenger who could understand his rapid Italian and was interested in his problems. He like most Venetians was torn by the debate over the huge flood-gate project, the modulo sperimentale elettromeccanico or MoSE, and its likely ecological consequences. Mostly though, he was worried about spills from the petroleum tankers that are, unpardonably in his view, allowed into the Venetian lagoon.
Anybody visiting Venice knows that the city is sinking. On one day last week, the narrow pedestrian "streets" to the places we wanted to visit were flooded up to our knees. We saw other tourists sloshing along in gaudy, flimsy plastic knee-high boots (€12 a pair from your nearest edicola) or sturdier rubber boots (€25), but we chose to sit out the wait till low-tide in a little restaurant. By about 3 p.m., the paths were dry enough for walking. This kind of thing, the flooding of St. Mark's Square and other low areas of the city, is now occurring as many as 250 times a year, according to a big sign at the edge of the Grand Canal explaining the problem. Several times we passed store-front offices of the Partito della Rifondazione Comunista (still using the hammer and sickle emblem on a red background) with posters denouncing the MoSE Monster eating up Venice. It's a complicated issue, not only technically and environmentally but also politically, as are many big projects in Italy. Here's the clearest explanation I've found: Flood barriers | Saving Venice | Economist.com