Venice drought: what has happened to canals and water levels in Italian city - dry weather spell explained

Low water levels mean gondolas have been left unable to navigate some secondary waterways

Venice’s famous canals have hit record low levels leaving gondolas and ambulance boats stranded.

The Italian city which is famed for its waterways is normally making headlines for flooding, but water levels in the popular tourist destination have been drastically dropping, with experts blaming it on a high-pressure weather system that is stretching over much of Italy.

The city has no cars, with its canals serving as transport for members of the public and tourists. Ambulance boats and medical crews have had to tie up further away from their destination as they cannot navigate the canals. Whilst gondolas have been left unable to use some secondary waterways that run under Venice’s popular bridges which are an attraction for tourists. So, why has Venice dried up, is there a drought and is the Italian city sinking? Here’s everything you need to know.

Why has Venice dried up?

The canals of Venice have seen their water levels drop in recent weeks which has left water ambulances and gondolas stranded. Reported by ITV, city officials have blamed the dry canals on low tides, but concerns have been growing that the country could be facing another drought after weeks of no rainfall.

A gondola makes its way along a narrow canal during normal water levels (Photo: Getty Images)A gondola makes its way along a narrow canal during normal water levels (Photo: Getty Images)
A gondola makes its way along a narrow canal during normal water levels (Photo: Getty Images)

Is there a drought in Venice?

Concerns have been growing that Italy could be headed for another drought. Reported by Sky News, the Alps have received less than half of their expected snowfall, whilst water levels on Lake Garda, another area popular with tourists in Northern Italy, has seen water levels plummet to record lows exposing a pathway between the lake and the small island of San Biagio.

Speaking to PA, Jane Da Mosto, an environmental scientist and sustainable development analyst with We Are Here Venice, an environmental advocacy group, blamed the canal’s low water levels on high atmospheric pressure combined with the lunar cycle during ebb tide. She added that it highlights the lack of attention for cleaning Venice’s inner canal network.

The city is normally known for its flooding, between October and January Venice is prone to high tides which can often flood important landmarks including St Mark’s Square. However, this year instead the main concern has been the low water levels in the city’s canals.

Is Venice sinking?

Venice is most prone to flooding during the months October to January, the city which is built on top of around 120 islands has been at risk of rising tides since it was first founded. In 2022, the BBC highlighted it was sinking, with fears it could be lost to the waves by 2100.

Venice is usually concerned with flooding (Photo: Getty Images)Venice is usually concerned with flooding (Photo: Getty Images)
Venice is usually concerned with flooding (Photo: Getty Images)

Sally Stone, reader in architecture and adaptive reuse at the Manchester School of Architecture explained that the city’s foundations were built using a system of piles which were pushed vertically into the mud and clay below. Over the centuries, this unstable foundation has caused the city to sink, with a scientific report finding the city has sunk roughly 15cm in the last century.

What is behind the weather changes?

Italy was rocked by a drought last summer after record high temperatures and low rainfall. There is growing concern that the pattern could continue this year, after the Alps received less than half their normal amount of rainfall. However, the flooding which Venice normally makes headlines for has been attributed to “climate change”. Speaking to the BBC Stone explained: “Climate change has caused a rise in sea levels, so any city built at sea level is particularly vulnerable.”