Sports Editor Claire Thomson discusses Paris’s efforts to lay out the red carpet on its idyllic river prior to the Olympics coming to town.
River pollution is a major environmental issue throughout large cities across the globe, however Paris has committed to cleaning up its act (or river) ahead of the next Olympic Games. Currently, the River Seine, which flows through France’s capital, is legally unswimmable as a consequence of pollution from heavy industry, the constant expansion of the city and the leakage of sewage and untreated water into the river. Yet, in the last couple of months, it has been announced that the City of Lights infamous counterpart is to be resurrected and is expected to host not only the marathon swimming and triathlon events, but also act as the venue for the Opening Ceremony at the 2024 Olympic Games, with plans for athletes and officials to float down the river on more than 160 boats. Considering that swimming in the river has been banned since 1923 before it was declared “biologically dead” in the 1960s, has Paris gone in-Seine with these ambitious plans?
It’s clear that there are two very conflicting perceptions on the Seine and its future developments. More than two-thirds of all French people have highlighted a negative opinion of the river, yet when French officials revealed their ambitions for the upcoming Summer Olympics, the Seine was treated as Holy Ground with overwhelming optimism, “the most beautiful avenue of the capital” and a place of “unlimited possibilities”. There is the hope that the Olympics will celebrate the U-turn that has been made in the river’s fortunes over the last decade and set a precedent for other cities to join in in the revival of major bodies of water.
The clean up of the river is fortunately not a new project for the city, however, to reach the water quality targets will require a sprint finish as the Olympics loom closer and closer. Over the past 40 years, fish species in the Seine have rapidly increased more than tenfold as a result of not only the strengthening of European Union rules on water quality but also local initiatives to reverse the environmental degradation. Authorities are now focusing on improving the efficiency of existing sewage treatment plants, as well as constructing a stormwater holding tank, which is designed to limit polluted runoff and capture more than 12 million gallons of water. More than $1bn has been allocated to the project, which will not only benefit the reputation of the city but continue to encourage a range of biodiversity back into the river and reduce pollution in the long term.
Scientists and engineers are continually collecting data on the river both day and night. These include measurements of the water’s CO2 and E Coli bacteria levels, which are monitored closely. In recent years, the Seine’s high-tech barometer often lights up green, highlighting that the river is well on its way to becoming healthy again and allowing species to breathe once more. Nowadays, around 99% of capital region wastewater is treated, with the water quality in the Seine often safe enough for swimming in already. The goal for the city is to maintain and improve this water quality, whilst also reducing the risks of further pollution from storm runoff and toxic wastewater leaks from industry in the surrounding area.
Following the Olympic Games, officials intend to create public river-water swimming pools along the Seine, taking in the famous landmarks of the city including the Louvre, Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower, but also in the less privileged suburbs. If the resurrection of the Seine is successful, it'll be a momentous occasion that allows Parisians to reclaim a long-lost but not forgotten tradition.
“The cities of the world are reconquering their rivers,” says Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris and the Socialist Party’s presidential candidate. Across the globe, there have been increasing efforts to rejuvenate rivers and combat the effects of pollution on the environment. With the Olympics hopefully showcasing this transformation, governments should look optimistically into the future and perhaps take similar initiatives to clean up and improve the reputations of their own rivers. Besides, imagine swimming in the River Clyde in Finnieston in front of the SECC. Isn't that every UofG students’ dream?
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