The Paris City Council released a statement that a malfunctioning valve caused the cancellation of last month’s Open Water World Cup stop, which was seen as a test event for the 2024 Olympic Games. After originally postponing the event, the whole competition was cancelled on August 5th due to poor water quality in the Seine river.
At the time of the cancellation, the poor water quality was attributed to above average rainfall in Paris. However, after public authorities conducted an investigation, officials said that “the preferred hypothesis is that of the malfunction of a valve in the sewerage network located at the level of the Tolbiac bridge.” That’s upstream from the Alexandre III bridge, where the competition was slated to kick off.
“Investigations are continuing to understand the sequence of events and determine the measures to be taken in order to guarantee the perfect quality of the water for the holding of the events in 2024,” the statement continued.
Several more measures should be in place by the time the Olympics roll around next year. That includes the currently under-construction Austerlitz storage tank. The completed basin and connected tunnel will hold 13.2 million gallons of water.
However, even with a completed tank and a malfunction-free sewage system, rain could still derail Olympic and Paralympic open water swimming. Paris’ sewer system funnels both rainwater and wastewater. When storms overwhelm the system — which happens about 12 times a year, according to Samuel Colin-Canivez, the city’s lead engineer for the sewage projects — everything gets released into the Seine.
Paris 2024 organizers maintain there is no alternate plan for where to hold open water events if pollution in the Seine is too high. Pollution affecting Olympic open water events is not new. At the Rio Games, waterborne viruses were a major concern. And, at Tokyo 2020, water quality issues were a major storyline in the run up to the Games.
The cleanup of the Seine is meant to launch a new era in Paris. Mayor Anne Hidalgo promised that by summer 2025, locals will have access to about 20 swimming areas along the Seine. Until recently, swimming in the iconic river had been banned since 1923.