A $7.3 billion water barrier system designed to protect Venice from high tide events was just put to a major test over the weekend. In the future, this barrier could help the City of Water keep some of the worst flooding at bay.

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Officially called the Experimental Electromechanical Module or MOSE, the project has become known as “Moses” for its sea-parting functionality. On Saturday, four of the system’s new floodgates were raised during a public test and successfully blocked water, prompting applause from onlookers.

When completed, 78 of these mobile barriers will run for more than a mile and block the three inlets to the Venice lagoon, according to the BBC. The barriers will be housed in enormous tanks anchored to the seafloor. Whenever significantly high water threatens to flood the city, pressurized air will go into the barriers and raise them on hinges, Phys.org reported. After the threat passes the air will release so the barriers can sink down again.

Venice floods annually in what’s known locally as “acqua alta” or “high water,” but those events have increased in frequency over the past few years. An extensive scientific study published last year showed that the Venice is sinking more than previously thought. Combined with the steadily rising Adriatic, the city is headed for disaster if left unprotected.

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The completed barriers would only be mobilized to block the most extreme flooding, starting when high tide pushes the sea more than 43 inches above a certain point. The Moses project is supposed to be able to hold strong against sea level rise over the next 100 years, the Telegraph noted

The construction project, however, hasn’t gone smoothly since it began 10 years ago.  Progress has been slowed by economic downturn and mired by accusations of graft. Over the summer, several contractors and project participants were detained. The barriers are not expected to be fully functional until 2016 at the earliest.

Photo: MOSE barriers successfully rise up to block water near Venice on Saturday during a test. Credit: Michele Lodi.