Paris still hopes to keep its mayor's promise that the River Seine will be safe enough to swim in by the 2024 Olympics and its open-water swimming events. But it's only four years to go, and the promise has a daunting history.
It's now 32 years since former President Jacques Chirac, then Mayor of Paris, made the same promise, but swimming in the river, a common recreation in the 19th century, is still forbidden. Violators are subject to a €15 fine—and a serious threat to health from toxic chemicals, e-coli bacteria and more.
Just a few days ago, a leak at a cement plant dumped thousands of litres of toxic waste into the river. A prosecutor is looking into the case, but trust levels on the issue overall are not high, especially among those who remember that Rio had a similar, though worse, issue with open-water swimming at the 2016 Olympics.
Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who made the promise, has now appointed a Deputy Mayor for the Seine, who says “The city must re-appropriate the Seine and make it the 21st district of Paris.” In an interview, he claimed that “We will provide water treatment plants with new decontaminating filters, forbid barges to discharge their wastewater into the river and correct the bad connections of certain residential areas whose wastewater is discharged into the river.”
But even within government, some are skeptical. The Deputy for Environment and Water Policy told the newspaper Figaro last year that "In reality, if we relied solely on dry weather, we would not be very far from meeting the swimming target. The issue is thunderstorms, they disrupt water quality." Paris against nature—imagine that!