Seine Still Fails Water Quality Tests Two Months Out From Olympic Games

With barely 50 days until the start of the Paris Olympics, questions persist about the viability of using the Seine for the open water and triathlon events.

The latest water quality tests done by Surfrider Foundation Europe show levels of E. Coli and enterococci bacteria “higher than authorized levels set by sports federations and European bathing standards,” per AFP.

Surfrider is a non-profit organization that has been conducting regular tests on the Seine’s water quality. They are specifically testing for E.Coli and enterococci and collect samples from the Pont de l’Alma and the Pont Alexandre III, a section of the river slated for use during the Games. In April, they released findings from a six-month period that found only one of the samples had satisfactory water quality with regards to the two types of bacteria.

According to the same AFP report, “one reading for E.Coli at the Alexandre III bridge was more than three times higher than the maximum level authorized by the triathlon and open-water swimming federations.”

Heavy rainfall during May is likely a major factor for what Surfrider deemed  “poor” water quality. The heavy rainfall also forced Games organizers postponed the opening ceremony rehearsal on the Seine for the second time as the water levels were too high.

Paris officials recently inaugurated the Austerlitz water tank, which can hold 13.2 million gallons of water. The tank is expected to go into operation in early June. Its goal is to prevent the Paris sewer system–which carries both rain and wastewater–from getting overwhelmed and releasing everything into the Seine.

But even the tank does not entirely remove the rain’s threat. In spring 2023, deputy mayor Pierre Raabadan told The New York Times if it rains the week before the Games “we know the quality of the water—even with all the work we’ve done—probably won’t be excellent.”

Organizers maintained throughout the spring that there is no alternative venue if the Seine’s water quality is poor. Tony Estanguetpresident of the Paris 2024 organizing committee, held a press conference in April warning about the consequences of heavy rain. At the conference, he reiterated “the first part of the contingency is to postpone the dates. That’s why we have programmed the triathlon at the beginning of the Games.”

The individual triathlon races are scheduled for July 30 and 31 with the mixed relay on August 5. There is less flexibility for the open water swimming events, slated for August 8 and 9. The triathlon international federation could also rule to shorten the triathlon to a duathlon.

According to AP, officials will test the Seine’s water every day at 3 a.m. during the Games to determine whether events can proceed. On their website, Surfrider notes that they are now unable to continue to monitor the river’s water quality. The closing of the quays in the lead-up to the Games makes it impossible for the organization, though in an open letter they have asked for continued access to sampling sites for the duration of the Games.

So, even though organizers declared they were “on time” with construction at the Austerlitz basin’s inauguration, the new infrastructure does not fully answer the lingering questions about water quality. And as March’s floods and May’s heavy rain shows, those questions will remain through the Olympic Games.

Both the president of France Emmanuel Macron and the mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo have promised to swim in the Seine before the Olympics, with organizers saying multiple times that their confidence is so high that there is “no plan B”.

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5 days ago

What are those max levels set by sports federations?

Z Tech
1 month ago

In a way though French officials treating this like something they could so easily fix on an extremely short timescale only for their underestimation of the severity of the problem to blow up in their face in embracing fashion is a good thing. Pollution is really really bad for our health and it’s not actually getting better just because we have so many billions in funds marked “ESG”. It’s not just waste management, we’re letting most industrial activity off the hook in poisoning you, giving slaps on the wrist for exceeding arbitrary “acceptable” levels of a pollutant, if it’s even regulated at all because it’s business first questions later as we mess with the delicate equilibrium which sustains life itself.… Read more »

Z Tech
Reply to  Z Tech
1 month ago

Embarrassing smh autocorrect

Pavid Dopovici
Reply to  Z Tech
1 month ago

No big deal. The meaning in your comment is much more critical and important.

be fr
1 month ago

oh well, open water is two hours of straight boredom anyways (until the last 1km). i feel bad for the triathletes though.

1 month ago

Is it even possible to have an ecoli free river that flows through giant cities?

Z Tech
Reply to  Virtus
1 month ago

If the full scope of human activity was actually considered in managing these problems, it probably could be. We just don’t want to because money is the addictive drug we have become dependent.

Reply to  Virtus
1 month ago

Yes! In Copenhagen the canals and surrounding harbors are used for swimming and bathing. There is an open water race that goes through downtown and it is a very popular event. So it is definitely possible, but it has taken Copenhagen many years to get to this point.

1 month ago

E. Coli? More like Eeeeeek! Holy COW there is no way I’m swimming in that that thing 😂

swim john
1 month ago

I do not get it, they could easily have plan B , at one of the lakes on the outside of Paris, bike, and run back to Paris. Safety first! Seems like a simple solution to me. They could also be used for Open Water.

Reply to  swim john
1 month ago

Do we really think there is no plan B? Or just that they’re not willing to acknowledge and talk about it publicly? No plan B seems completely disrespectful to the athletes. I’m pretty cynical but still find that surprising

Reply to  TXSwimDad
1 month ago

I’m with you. With all of the money and planning that goes into the Olympics…what are you doing if it’s not coming up with a Plan B for your most tenuous but arguably most-easily replaceable venue?

1 month ago

For the triathlon could they not just swim in a pool? Open water is def an issue tho

Reply to  Aussie
1 month ago

Its not a triathlon if its in a pool lol. They don’t practice underwater and turns etc

1 month ago

Here’s one from left field- instead of a ‘biathlon’, the triathletes could do a time trial 1500m swim the day before in a pool- and then have a staggered start (swimming winner first etc) according to those times….

At least it would still be a ‘triathlon’.

And still dumb compared to just moving the thing.

Reply to  Torchbearer
1 month ago

fun and games until half of them get concussions trying to do the turns

About Sophie Kaufman

Sophie Kaufman

Sophie grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, which means yes, she does root for the Bruins, but try not to hold that against her. At 9, she joined her local club team because her best friend convinced her it would be fun. Shoulder surgery ended her competitive swimming days long ago, …

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