Is it a valuable asset?
a path of sustainability
«Venetia è in aqua et non ha aqua»
(by Paola Benussi, traslation by Stefania Saviane)
Among the dominant themes of environmental sustainability, the use of water in terms of responsible use of a precious natural resource, is perhaps the one that most immediately comes to mind. At a time when the adoption of corrective interventions to rebalance the anthropic exploitation of natural resources cannot be postponed, one of the crucial steps is the change of mindset in industrialized countries, where, in everyday life, there is a tendency to consider natural resources as unlimited. Tracing back how water shortages and, consequently, its wise use have been addressed in the past can be an opportunity to gain awareness on issues of vital importance. The example of water supply methods in Venice, a city born "above salty waters" and therefore completely devoid of fresh water sources, traced through the documents, can be a stimulus to also reflect from a historical perspective on a theme of compelling topicality.
In Venice, the availability of fresh water was guaranteed by numerous wells built according to a complex system introduced from the IX century already and gradually improved, based on the collection of rainwater in special tanks. It was conveyed, collected - keeping it carefully separated from the brackish one - and purified thanks to the filtering through layers of sand.
The water supply system diversified due to the growing need from the beginning of the XIV century at least, with the withdrawal of fresh water from the Brenta at predetermined points - varied over the centuries, moving more and more upstream following the hydraulic arrangement of the river – that were gradually equipped with special structures to load water on burchi (flat-bottomed boats). The loading and transport to Venice for the supply of the wells and its sale was entrusted to the acquaroli, incorporated in arte (corporation) in 1471.
The complexity and fragility of the integrated system of water supply to the town also resulted in the interlinking of competences on the subject: in the modern age it was shared, as for the wells, between the Provveditori alla sanità (Health Superintendents) for hygiene and drinkability and the Provveditori di Comun for technical aspects and maintenance; as for the water drawn from the Brenta, the Savi ed esecutori alle acque were added, regarding the variations of the hydraulic set-up of the river, and again the Provveditori di Comun for the controls over the arte of acquaroli, which was also entrusted with the care of public wells and their defence from high waters.
The idea of a trans-lagoon aqueduct to lead the waters of the Brenta to Venice was already examined in the mid-fifteenth century, but was never brought into effect due to political reasons, in order to avoid any dependence on the mainland. The project was carried out only in the not too distant years, in 1884.
«Venetia è in aqua et non ha aqua» - 1
Savi ed esecutori alle acque, Disegni, Brenta, rot. 38, dis. 82
1769, 11 September. Venezia
Drawing by Giuseppe Fuin, deputy expert engineer of the Magistrato alle acque, which renders the topography of the Moranzani area, along the lower course of the Brenta river. Below the porte (locks) of the Moranzan is highlighted the "mandracchio delle gorne", a basin into which flowded the artificial channels (gorne) that allowed water to be drawn from the Seriola, an artificial derivation of the Brenta, at the height of the inhabited area of Dolo. It was built in 1611 to guarantee water of excellent quality drawing it from a place further up the river, following the hydraulic arrangements of the Brenta.
«Venetia è in aqua et non ha aqua» - 2
Provveditori di comun, b. 52, fasc. A, c. 140
1768, 25 May with follow-ups to 1770. Venezia
Prospectus of public wells to be rebuilt, restored, decommissioned and built from scratch divided into a six-year program with an indication of the total budgeted expenditure by type of intervention. The prospectus was drawn up on behalf of the Provveditori di comun and of the Provveditori alla sanità, in conference assembled, by the overseers of the two courts, Antonio Mazzoni e Paolo Rossi.