Will people really be able to swim in Paris’ Seine river in 2024?

Paris authorities and the Olympic organisers have big plans for the Seine - holding swimming events in the river during the 2024 Games and then opening it up to the general public for swimming by 2025, but how realistic are these plans?

Will people really be able to swim in Paris' Seine river in 2024?
In 1946, people dive into the Seine river near the Pont d'Iéna, during a heat wave at the beginning of the summer. (Photo by AFP)

Swimming in the Seine has been banned since 1923, when public officials closed the waters off to would-be swimmers due to high pollution levels.

In the years since, the Seine, while known for its beauty as it traverses the city of Paris, is also reputed for being trash-ridden and dirty. 

READ MORE: Paris 2024 Olympics: How can I get tickets?

Despite this, organisers for the 2024 Paris Olympics hope to host several swimming events, including the triathlon and 10k swimming marathon, in the river’s waters.

The Seine will also play a crucial role for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games – where the goal is for hundreds of boats carrying athletes to float down the river, watched along the banks by some 600,000 spectators.

READ MORE: Paris Olympics chiefs sweat over audacious opening ceremony along Seine

People have attempted to push for a Seine clean-up in the past – former French President Jacques Chirac said in 1990 that he hoped to clean up the water enough so that he would be able to swim in it within three years.

This didn’t happen but the president of SIAAP (the Interdepartmental Syndicate for the Sanitation of the Parisian Agglomeration), François-Marie Didier, told BFMTV that in the 1990s, there were only three species of fish in the Seine and Marne rivers.

In contrast, now, “there are 34 species of fish in the Seine and 37 in the Marne”, signalling progress that has been made in the last three decades to make the water less polluted.

The clean-up project

Despite the fact that the Seine’s quality has improved over the years, many Parisians still associate the waterway with bad smells, litter and dumped electronic scooters. 

According to a Slate report in 2021, nearly 360 tonnes of waste are collected from the water each year, which understandably does not make it very appealing for swimming.

The other issue is pollution from sewage. According to Vivienne Walt, who has covered the clean-up plan for Time magazine, “last year, 1.9 million cubic metres of untreated wastewater was spewed into the Seine”.

Walt spoke to city hall officials, who told her that dumping the wastewater was necessary “to avoid saturating Paris’ sewage network and flooding the city when especially heavy rain hits”. 

In order to solve this issue, a “water quality and swimming programme” was first launched in 2016, funded by €1.4 billion from the City of Paris and other local authorities.

To address the issue of heavy rains pushing untreated waste water into the river, a large rainwater storage tank near the Austerlitz train station is being constructed. 

Public swimming

Map: Ville de Paris

In 2021, Paris mayor Anne Hidlago’s son Arthur Germain, an endurance swimmer, swam the entire length of the Seine, from its source near Dijon out to the sea at Le Havre, as part of an environmental project.

If the water is clean enough, Olympic events will be held there in summer 2024 and the next stage is public swimming which is scheduled from 2025.

The plan – which is still subject to technical surveys – is to create 23 bathing sites along the Seine, with 5 in Paris itself and the rest in the suburbs and greater Paris area.

Two of the Paris sites will be located along the left bank of the Seine (in the 5th and 6th arrondissements), one at the edge of the Île Saint-Louis (4th), one at the port of Bercy (12th), and one in the Bois de Boulogne (16th).

These will be enclosed pool-type structures put into the river to create swimming spaces – similar to the temporary pool that is erected each year on the Canal Ourcq at Bassin de le Villette each summer.

At this stage it is not clear whether the Seine pools will be permanent or only for the summer, or what the rules will be on swimming in the river outside of the designated pool spaces. 

But will it happen?

According to Paris regional authorities, the stated goal within the “water quality and swimming programme” is to decrease three quarters of the pollution in the river by 2024. 

“If we reach this objective of reducing pollution by 75 percent, then it should be possible to swim in the Seine”, the préfecture of Île-de-France told BFMTV.

There is reason to believe that the plan will be successful. During the summer of 2022, daily samples of river water were collected, and “they were found to be either ‘satisfactory’ or ‘excellent’ 7 days out of 10. And that’s before all the work underway”, Pierre Rabadan, deputy mayor of Paris in charge of sports, the Olympic and Paralympic Games and the Seine, told BFMTV.

The head of the Olympic Organising Committee, Tony Estanguet, echoed these comments, telling the French news channel that the “test results from the summer of 2022 were very, very, very encouraging (…) the tests from this summer have shown that we are already at levels that allow swimming”.

Despite these encouraging results, the deputy mayor did say that hazards, such as large storms, could make it so that the river needs to be closed for a few days to be at safe pollution-levels again.

“In this situation, organisers would have a two to three day margin to shift events around”, Rabadan explained, referencing the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Researcher in microbiology at the University of Paris-Est Créteil, Françoise Lucas, told BFMTV that, for this reason, “we must hope that it does not rain at all in the three days ahead of the Olympics”.

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Paris votes on pay-by-weight car parking charges

Paris is considering following Lyon’s lead by introducing a sliding scale of parking fees based on a vehicle’s weight - meaning that parking for SUVs would become more expensive than for smaller cars.

Paris votes on pay-by-weight car parking charges

The city council this week adopted a proposal to examine the possibility for the “progressive pricing of parking according to the duration, the motorisation, the size and the weight of the cars.”

The south-eastern city of Lyon adopted a similar weight-related parking fees policy in May, which is set to come into force in January 2024.

The voted text in Paris undertakes to “put in place on January 1st, 2024, a progressive pricing of parking according to duration, motorisation, size and weight of the cars”.

The capital’s parking fees plan is, at this stage, non-binding and – unlike the fully adopted scheme in Lyon – does not yet include any additional details, including possible pricing levels.

The adopted proposals, however, do contain a recommendation for a “solidarity tariff for families on the lowest incomes as well as for large families”. 

Environmentalists on the council welcomed the move, pointing to the increasing size of vehicles – between 1960 and 2017, the weight of vehicles increased by 62 percent, councillor Frédéric Badina Serpette said, branding the issue ‘auto-obesity’.

Larger vehicles, including SUVs, use more fuel and emit more fine particles, while a study by insurer Axa found that large 4x4s are involved in 25 percent more accidents than any other type of vehicle.

Another study reports that pedestrians are twice as likely to be killed in a collision with an SUV compared to a sedan.

In Lyon, the council has decided that, from next year, residential rates will range from €15 to €45 per month, based on the weight of their vehicle as opposed to the current €20 per month flat-fee for an on-street parking permit.

Under pending rules in the south-eastern city, owners of an internal combustion car that weighs less than one tonne, or an electric car weighing less than 2.2 tonnes, will pay €15; for an internal combustion car weighing more than 1.725 tonnes, a plug-in hybrid weighing more than 1.9 tonnes or an electric car weighing more than 2.2 tonnes the price will be €45. 

For vehicles in the middle range for weight, the monthly price for permits will be €30.