River Seine aims for Olympic swim glory

Image: Luca Dugaro, Unsplash

A €1.4 billion clean-up of the River Seine is on track to be ready for the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

As well as playing a central role in the Olympic Opening Ceremony on 26 July 2024, the river is due to be the setting for racing events including marathon swimming and triathlon.

Following the games, Paris City Hall has pledged to reopen the river for public swimming in summer 2025, with around 20 potential bathing sites being considered, five in the city itself, the rest further afield in Greater Paris.

Swimming in the Seine has been banned since 1923, due to high levels of bacteria and pollution. Paris’ Olympic bid accelerated the clean-up, and has been the catalyst for major investment into water quality and biodiversity improvements and pollution reduction.

The mighty clean-up efforts include improved sewage treatment and new stormwater storage tanks. Huge storage basins will capture rainwater during storms to prevent the sewers becoming overwhelmed and spilling untreated sewage into the river. Facilities to treat the dirty water before it is released into the river are also being built.

"It will create waves across the world because a lot of cities are watching Paris. It's the beginning of a movement."

Dan Angelescu, scientist
Image: Louis Tricot, Unsplash

Other unprecedented steps taken by officials include an Olympic law, adopted in 2018, which gave moored boats two years to connect to Paris' sewage network instead of emptying waste directly into the Seine. Upstream from Paris, local authorities are working to stop wastewater from around 23,000 poorly connected properties ending up in the river.

City Hall says the water quality is already improving. In March, it reported the river had reached the sanitary quality thresholds required to allow regular swimming during the summer and said more than 30 fish species had been detected during the last count.

Scientist Dan Angelescu, who tracking the Seine's water quality for City Hall, told Associated Press the clean-up could encourage other cities to tackle their own rivers. He said, “It will create waves across the world because a lot of cities are watching Paris. It's the beginning of a movement. We hope so, at least."

Tony Estanguet, president of the Paris 2024 Organising Committee, said, “We will have marathon swimming and triathlon for the Olympics and Paralympics in the Seine. For me that’s a fantastic demonstration of the power of the games.”