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Paris houseboats pump sewage onshore to help Olympic swimmers

The French capital is investing massively to ensure open water swimmers and triathlon athletes can swim safely in the river during Games.

The river Seine is to host open water and triathlon swimmers during the Games
The river Seine is to host open water and triathlon swimmers during the Games - Copyright AFP Geneviève NORMAND
The river Seine is to host open water and triathlon swimmers during the Games - Copyright AFP Geneviève NORMAND
Pierrick Yvon

As Paris races to clean up the River Seine for the Olympics, houseboat owner Stephane Bachot is one of around 230 river dwellers to have hooked up his kitchen and bathroom to the city sewers.

The French capital is investing massively to ensure open water swimmers and triathlon athletes can swim safely in the river during the Summer Games from July 26 to August 11.

Making sure its houseboats and restaurants do not dump their waste straight into the watercourse is a small part of the plan.

Down on the paved docks under the iconic Notre Dame cathedral, Bachot and his wife, French television presenter Christine Bravo, this winter adapted their boat to the new setup.

“As we were redoing the boat’s plumbing anyway, we added in some ducts,” Bachot said, surrounded by plants on the deck of their floating home.

“And we hooked up a few months ago.”

At docks across the French capital, boats at each mooring can now connect to a pump to suck their wastewater out into a pit.

From there, a second pump sends the sewage up into the mains running under the street.

– $13-million plan –

With just months to go before the Olympics, many are worried the Seine will not be clean enough on time.

Organisers cancelled three test events in July and August last summer due to elevated E. Coli readings following very heavy rainfall and a faulty sewer valve.

Earlier this month, Brazilian swimmer Ana Marcela Cunha, the reigning Olympic open water champion, called on Paris to have a plan B in case the Seine was not ready.

She said the health of athletes “must come first”.

France has said the river will be fit for Olympic races if there is no major storm beforehand.

Both President Emmanuel Macron and Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo have promised to take the plunge before the start of the event.

The authorities have spent 1.4 billion euros ($1.5 billion) upgrading sewage and storm water treatment facilities in the Paris region over the last decade to improve the water quality of the Seine as well as its main tributary, the Marne.

Around 12 million euros ($13 million) of this has been pumped into providing 28 river docks with sewage pits and pumps connected to the capital’s sewers.

But the owners of the city’s around 250 floating homes and businesses have needed to make sometimes expensive changes to their plumbing for the plan to work.

Morgane Sanchez, from public port authority Haropa, says these renovations can cost 1,000 to 10,000 euros per boat depending on size.

Owners can ask for help of up to 4,200 euros from the French state but they have to cover the rest.

French official Christophe Noel du Payrat said he and other officials had to doorstep most houseboat owners to convince them.

But their efforts have paid off and today only 20 houseboats still need to make the required changes, he said.

– ‘Quite easy’ change –

Renaud Brosse, a 55-year-old who has lived on the river for around 20 years, was one of those who agreed.

He said the necessary plumbing changes were “quite easy” to make.

“It’s good to be hooked up,” he said, adding he thought it was normal for anyone making a life on the water to “care at least a little about the environment”.

Bravo, who with her husband Bachot this winter renovated their houseboat, said the new sewage pumps were a “very good initiative”.

“The Seine is part of the beauty of Paris,” she said.

France has planned to put the Seine centre stage in its opening ceremony for the Olympics, with thousands of athletes set to sail down the river in a spectacular flotilla.

But, said Bravo, there was one flaw to the houseboat plan.

The system doesn’t work when the river level rises and is higher than the valve connecting to the first pump, as was the case at the end of this winter.

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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