by Jeni Bone
Rio Olympics 2016 - The jewel in the crown of Rio de Janeiro would be Guanabara Bay, venue for rowing and sailing events at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. What a tragedy then that city officials admit that of the 1.3 billion litres (yes, that is correct) of sewerage, effluent, oil and run off that the city creates each day only 40% is treated. The rest goes to the waterways.
During the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Guanabara Bay will play host to a slew of watersport event and water quality is obviously a serious issue as some of world’s elite athletes who after already experiencing Rio’s water quality at led-up events, have been commenting on its dire state.
Guanabara Bay – bossa nova songs are dedicated to its beauty, Paul Gaugin was intoxicated by the sunlight and moonlight on its waters. For 500 years, painters, poets and lovers have been enchanted by the majesty of this oceanic bay, surrounded by Parrot’s Peak and the iconic Sugar Loaf, with its cable car and summit tourist attraction.
It must have been a wonder of the world when it was first beheld by the Spaniard, Magellan in 1512, though later seized and colonized by the Portuguese, hungry for gold and timber. Guanabara Bay once boasted dense mangroves, plentiful fishing grounds and a diverse ecosystem. But is has been heavily impacted by urbanisation, deforestation and pollution from run-off, sewerage and oil spills.
The Guanabara Limpa project eco-boats
There have been three major oil spills in Guanabara Bay, the most recent in 2000 when a leaking underwater pipeline released 1,300,000 litres of oil into the Bay. Recovery measures are underway attempted, but more than a decade after the incident, the mangrove areas have not returned to life.
Then there are the illegal 'gatos', unauthorised pipes leading from businesses and homes direct to city drains and flowing straight to the Bay and Rio’s beaches.
Jardim Gramacho, once one of the world’s largest landfills was adjacent to Guanabara Bay for 34 years, before being closed in 2012. Liquid from the landfill leaches into the Bay.
Responding to MarineBusiness-World's direct questions about the water quality in Rio de Janeiro, specifically at the 2016 Olympic sailing venues, the communications department for the Rio Secretary of the Environment in Rio de Janeiro attempts to differentiate fact from fiction, admitting that while the situation is still difficult , the state government is serious about stemming the tide of pollution that putrifies its picturesque lagoons, rivers and ocean.
There are claims by international media that '7 million tonnes of untreated sewerage and garbage are deposited in Rio’s waterways each day'. Is that true?
'There is an estimated 16 thousand litres of sewage per second produced by the Guanabara Bay's surrounding municipalities – approximately 40% of this amount is already been treated and the target is to reach 60% of sanitation by 2016.'
Editor’s note: 16,000 Litres per second (86,400 seconds in one day) equals more than 1.3 billion litres each day. 60% of that equals 800,000 tonnes per day. It might not be seven million but its a health threatening problem.
Landfill being reclaimed
Where does the pollution come from – domestic, industrial, runoff?
'Mainly from domestic and runoff, but we can't avoid that there are still some industries that pollute the water bodies that empty in to the Bay.'
What are the actual levels of pollution in Guanabara (and any other waterways like Lagoa) and what are the goals for the Olympic Games?
'In the Bay area where the rowing and sailing regatta will happen the water quality is in good condition. Please refer to the full report for more information of Guanabara Bay's water and of the surrounding water bodies.'
Measurement of water quality in Rio's Guanabara Bay
This diagram reports the water quality during 2013 - where yellow is medium, orange is bad and red is very bad.
How are you cleaning up the waterways – both physically (eco-boats) and addressing the composition of the water too?
'Currently, we have 11 eco-barriers – structures that contain the solid waste on the river mouths – removing an average of 3,000 tonnes of waste per year and also three eco-boats that started operation in January 2014 removing 10 tonnes of floating garbage per mouth.'
The Rio environment minister inspecting the garbage collection.
'In March another seven eco-boats will be operating and until July another eight eco-barriers will be installed in waterways that empty into the Bay. '
The Alegria (Joy) treatment plant
'The River Treatment Plants (UTRs) are an alternative while the sanitation works are currently being executed. These UTRs are structures installed on the mouth of the rivers treating up to 80% of their hydric pollution. Planned until 2016, the construction of five new UTRs will remove 80% of the total hydric pollution that empties into Guanabara Bay´s waters.'
Sewage treated before arriving at Ipanema Beach
What should the sailing community and visitors to Rio know about your efforts to address water pollution?
'With all the efforts that the Rio de Janeiro State Government are performing in order to clean up the Guanabara Bay, the sailing community can expect a great event in the 2016 Olympic Games. The floating solid waste and the Bay's water quality are the main subject at all government levels. This issue is a commitment assumed with the International Olympic Committee and also with everyone who lives or travels to enjoy Rio de Janeiro city.'
Replanting the mangroves
More at http://www.rj.gov.br/web/sea/exibeconteudo?article-id=1550491 and www.guanabaralimpa.eco.br
Community pitches in at Praia Vermelha
The author of this article Jeni Bone is our MarineBusiness-World editor, Jeni was a long time resident of Rio and is an accredited and experienced Brazilian (Portuguese) language translator.