A forgotten environmental legacy: The battle to clean up Rio's lagoons after the 2016 Olympics

FILE – Fish carcasses line the shores of the Jacarebagua lagoon in front of the Olympic Park in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on August 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo, File)

When held in Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games in 2016Videos of the extensive complex of surrounding pools Olympic Park They were everywhere. After years of being polluted by sewage and garbage, many hoped that a wave of investment linked to the international sporting event would restore its waterways. It didn't happen.

Eight years later, a private concessionaire is working to restore the aquatic environment in western Rio. The project aims to remove enough silt and dirt from the barra and lagoons. Zacarebagua 920 Olympic swimming pools to be filled. Excavation began in late April and is expected to take three years, according to Igua, the company that recently took over water and sewage in the city's western suburbs.

Real estate development in West Rio has increased significantly over the past half century. Areas of mangroves and coastal forests were filled in, making way for gated communities and exclusive apartments. They were legally required to treat their sewage.But according to Márcio Santa Rosa, who is in charge of the environmental management and sustainability program for the 2016 Olympic bid, many turn off their computers at night when they receive untreated waste from informal working-class neighborhoods.

Before the 2016 Olympics, the Santa Rosa office pledged to restore the pool complex and the state government conducted extensive inspections. But he got caught up in bureaucracy, Santa Rosa said.

FILE PHOTO: Aerial image of the Olympic Park used during the 2016 Rio Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.  August 1, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes.
FILE PHOTO: Aerial image of the Olympic Park used during the 2016 Rio Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. August 1, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes.

“There was a dispute between government prosecutors (state and federal) and the project did not move forward.”said Santa Rosa, who now coordinates sustainable marine economics and bay management at Rio's Environment Secretariat. Associated Press by telephone. “Unbelievably, we missed the opportunity to do this cleanup work during the Olympics.”

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In 2021, the Rio state government separated water supply and sewage collection from its utility company Cedae and opened a bidding process for four 35-year concession areas. Winning bidders will lose their concessions for failing to meet the contractually set target of increasing wastewater collection and treatment to 90% by 2033, and there are specific environmental requirements. The igua pool complex needs to be cleaned.

Mario Moscatelli said pre-offer expectations were “very poor”. Biologist and expert in coastal ecosystemsand a long-time critic of the state's inability to prevent sewage from flowing into waterways.

“We don't have the Pan American Games, the Olympic Games, the World Cup, thousands of Olympic promises and environmental legacies,” he noted.

But Moscatelli said he saw pond conditions improve while working as a consultant for Igua. He compared it to a patient who was once terminally ill and is now up and walking.

Iguazu will invest 2.7 billion Brazilian reals ($510 million) in its concession area., including 250 million rais to clean up the lagoon complex. In addition to dredging, Iguazu is restoring channels between the lagoons and the Atlantic Ocean, installing collectors to prevent the discharge of untreated sewage, and restoring native mangrove forests.

Decades of degradation and lack of watershed management will take more time.

“This is a medium and long-term path. We cannot yet evaluate or verify any gains, because all these measures have to be implemented,” said Lucas Arosti, Igua's director of operations. “Only after they're done will we start to see significant changes in water quality.”

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(With information from AP)

Esmond Harmon

"Entrepreneur. Social media advocate. Amateur travel guru. Freelance introvert. Thinker."

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