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For the past century, swimming in the iconic River Seine has been prohibited by Parisian authorities, due to the dangers posed by river currents, boats, and pollution. Yet the city has ambitious plans to reopen the river for swimmers – and not just any swimmers. Organizers are working against the clock to ensure that the river is clean enough to serve as the venue for some of the swimming events at next year’s Summer Olympics, just as it did when Paris hosted the Olympics back in 1900.
Paris is investing around 1.4 billion euros ($1.5 billion USD) to make the river safe for open water events such as marathon swimming and the swim portion of the triathlon. The infrastructure project involves building massive storage tanks, pumps, and pipes to keep untreated wastewater out of the Seine, along with improvements to sewage treatment plants. In addition to these engineering efforts, boats and houses upstream have been banned from dumping wastewater into the river.
After the Games, the next step is to open 26 swimming pools in the river (including four in the city center), separated from boat traffic, by 2025. The plan would make Paris the first major metropolis to once again welcome urban swimming.
Swimming in the Seine:
- In water quality tests last year of the planned swimming areas, 90% of samples were found to be acceptable for swimming.
- Despite the best-laid plans, Mother Nature will have the final word. If it is particularly rainy in the lead-up to the Games, even the new storage tanks and the improved sanitation system may not be enough to guarantee clean enough conditions for swimming.
- The Seine will also feature prominently in the opening ceremony, which will take place on and around the river. Athletes from participating countries will float on boats past Parisian landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and Notre-Dame Cathedral, with thousands of spectators looking on from the riverbanks.