For the first time in over 100 years open-air swimming will return to the River Seine in Paris.
Swimming in the Seine was banned over 100 years ago thanks to the declining quality of the Paris river’s water.
But the city’s mayor Anne Hidalgo recently revealed that, thanks to investment in a €1.4 billion (£1.2 billion) regeneration project, open-air swimming will return to the Seine after the upcoming 2024 Olympic Games.
Swimming in the Seine – banned since 1923
Local authorities banned swimming in the Seine in 1923 due to the rapidly deteriorating quality of its waters. One of the key causes of this decline is the single-system drainage infrastructure that dates from the 19th century.
This infrastructure, which combines water from kitchens and bathrooms with toilet sewage, relies on a network of underground tunnels. The system becomes inundated during heavy rainfall, and the excess water is drained into the Seine.
Such was the uncleanliness of the Seine’s water that, by the 1960s, the river was home to a mere three species of fish.
But now, 25 years after late former president of France and mayor of Paris Jacques Chirac promised swimmers would return to the Seine, three open-air swimming areas are set to open to the public.
Improvements made – how the Seine became swimmable again
Improvements over the past 20 years led to much less faecal bacteria in the Seine, but Samuel Colin-Canivez, the city’s chief engineer for sanitation, told of the difficulty “in eradicating those last few percentage points to ensure it can be officially classified as clean”.
The solution to this difficulty came in the form of a huge underground reservoir built to store overflow during times of heavy rain. The reservoir is 34 m (112 ft) deep and 50 m (164 ft) wide and can hold a volume equivalent to 20 Olympic swimming pools.
Colin-Canivez explained how the overflow of the drainage system will now go to the reservoir for a few days until the system settles down again. It will then “be drained as normal to the treatment centres”.
He also noted the possibility that some of the excess could end up in the Seine during particularly heavy rainfall but clarified that these instances will be rare and that the city will inform bathers immediately.
The 2024 Olympic legacy – three open-air swimming spots
Paris will host the 2024 Olympic Games next summer, with three swimming events set to take place in the Seine: marathon swimming, and the swimming component of both the triathlon and Para-triathlon.
Paris deputy mayor Pierre Rabadan predicts that “when people see athletes swimming in the Seine with no health problems, they’ll be confident themselves to start going back in the Seine”.
By 2025, the Olympic legacy will be the opening of three swimming spots on the Seine: one at Bra Marie, near the Île Saint-Louis in the fourth arrondissement, one at Bra de Grenelle in the 15th arrondissement, and one at Beray in the 12th arrondissement.
A statement from Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo confirmed that lifeguards will monitor the swimming areas and that swimmers will be able to avail of spaces in which “to change, shower, and keep their belongings safe”.
The return of swimming in the Seine marks another green benefit of the legacy of the 2024 Games after the announcement of the introduction of electric air taxis and the building of stadium seats from recycled plastic.