ROME, Italy — Business didn’t dry up, but some of Venice’s famous gondoliers have had to limit their movements in recent weeks after water levels in some of the Italian city’s smaller canals dropped because of unusually low tides.
“We have had four exceptional low tides, and each time the water was so low in certain canals that we had to steer away from them,” one gondolier, Andrea Balbi, told NBC News on Thursday.
“I have been a gondolier for 28 years, and I have never seen so many low tides at once,” he added.
Worse still, he said some gondolas that had been “parked” got stuck in the trickle of water and mud “and they had to wait for the tide to rise again to get them out.”
Ambulance boats in some cases have also had to tie up farther from their destination, forcing medical crews to hand-carry stretchers since their vessels can’t progress up 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 rivers are at levels normally seen at the end of summer.
And for the last three weeks in Venice, some of the city’s canals have almost dried out.
The prolonged stretch of ebb tides is linked to a lingering high-pressure weather system over much of Italy, experts say.
“Low water levels in Venice are unheard of, especially at this time of the year,” said Giovanni Cecconi, the president of the Venice Resilience Lab. “The moon cycle and the high pressure have created a low tide in the past. But usually, it lasts only a few days. This time it has gone on for weeks.”
Luigi Cavaleri, a researcher at the city’s Institute of Marine Sciences, added that 20 days of high pressure over the Mediterranean Sea had also contributed to the lower waters.
While the lowest tide this month was 70 centimeters (around 28 inches) below the average sea level, it still has some way to go to beat the record set on Feb. 14, 1934, when the lowest tide recorded was 121 centimeters (47.6 inches) below sea level.
It’s a marked difference for the lagoon city, which has struggled with flooding for centuries leading to concerns from some experts that rising sea levels would cause the city to sink.
The introduction in 2020 of the multibillion-dollar project known as Mose — a system of mobile flood barriers that are able to isolate the Venetian lagoon from high tides — appears to have solved the flooding problem, however.
And Cecconi, who works as a director in the Mose control room, said it could be used to keep the water in.
“During low tides we could use the barriers to stop the water from getting out of the lagoon,” he said.
In the meantime, the gondoliers are punting along as best they can.
Balbi said the main problem was getting customers on and off the gondolas. The height between the boats and the docks was putting some people off, he added.
Restaurant manager Giovanni Fracassi added that the gap between his steps and the water had made it impossible to enter from the canal. “They had no choice but to walk to the street entrance instead,” he said.
However, Claudio Scarpa, the director general of the Venetian Hoteliers Association, said the low tides did bring some benefits.
“It’s the only time both we Venetians and tourists can visit monuments that are usually underwater, like the crypt in the Church of San Zaccaria,” he said.