People will soon be legally and safely swimming in the River Seine, in Paris, France following the end of a 100-year prohibition triggered by dangerous levels of pollution.
The return of swimmers to the Seine was made possible by a multimillion-dollar cleanup that began in 2016, as part of the city's preparations for the 2024 Paris Olympics, which will feature an opening ceremony based on and around the river, and events, including the triathlon and swim marathon, held in it.
The cleanup will be complete in the coming months and the city's government hopes the end of the prohibition that began in 1923 and the sight of top athletes going head-to-head in the river will encourage people to venture back into the water.
"When people see athletes swimming in the Seine with no health problems, they'll be confident themselves to start going back in the Seine," the city's deputy mayor responsible for the Olympics, Pierre Rabadan, told the BBC. "It's our contribution for the future."
Rabadan said the 1.4-billion-euro ($1.6-billion) cleanup will be among the city's main legacies from the Olympics.
Paris is also working on three new outdoor public areas that are slated to open by 2025 that will allow people easy access to the reawakened river, for swimming and sunbathing.
Before its rebirth, the river had been blighted for decades with high levels of pollution caused by industry and household sewage. New processing facilities, the relocation of some industrial giants, and a huge underground water storage tank that can swallow up 20 Olympic-size swimming pools of runoff water following heavy rainfall should ensure much less pollution reaches the river in the years to come.
The cleaner water has ensured the Seine is also more hospitable toward fish and other aquatic life, with the three species of fish found in the river in the 1960s now joined by more than 30 other species; with some individuals measuring 2 meters in length. The river is also now home to shellfish, aquatic insects, sponges, and crayfish that were absent before, and it has attracted underwater plants that will help keep it clean.
With some activities, including a high-diving competition, having already been staged in the river in recent weeks, and with swimming clubs already dipping their toes in the water, the Agence France-Presse news agency said little stands in the way of Olympics organizers creating an opening ceremony on and around the river that meets President Emmanuel Macron's call for the "most memorable" ever.
The Olympics opening ceremony on July 26, 2024 will likely feature 10,000 athletes on more than 100 boats and officially mark not only the start of the competition but the return of the river to the people of Paris.