Despite widespread skepticism six years ago when Paris officials announced that swimming events in the 2024 Olympics would be held in the Seine, the city appears almost ready to deliver on the promise of a cleaned-up river.
Swimming in the Seine has been banned since 1923, although many locals continued to swim in the sewage-tainted waters that by 1990 had one of the highest concentrations of heavy metals in the world. Despite repeated promises over the years little was done until the past few years.
In preparation for the Olympics and for future health reasons, Paris and France have been building what's called the Swimming Plan, a €1.4 billion system of tanks and pumps designed to keep wastewater from flowing into the river. Massive underground reservoirs are under construction to hold overflows until they can be treated and released.
One important aspect of the plan involves fixing sewer connections. Thousands of buildings in the city have their waste lines connected to the storm runoff sewers rather than to the sanitary sewers, causing their waste to flow into the river during heavy rains.
Will the water be safe for Olympic swimming? That's still a question that will have to be answered by repeated testing of the water when the time comes, with the final decision made by a special committee. If the levels are too high, the plan is to wait a few days and try again. There is no alternate venue.
Image: Stand-up paddlers on the Seine, December 2022