RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Rio de Janeiro officials on Tuesday unveiled a new sanitation project that aims to eliminate the stain of raw sewage defiling the waters of Rio de Janeiro's Gloria Marina, where the 2016 Olympic sailing events are to be held.
Under the agreement, Rio's state government is building a 1-kilometer- (0.62-mile-) long pipeline in the city's Flamengo neighborhood to stem the flow of raw sewage into the Marina. The $6.2 million project will connect area rainwater collectors with a sewage treatment center in the Ipanema Beach area.
More than half of the sewage in this city of 12 million goes untreated, meaning that collected rainwater is often contaminated with raw sewage. More than 10,000 liters of raw sewage flows each second into most of Rio's waterways, from the massive Guanabara Bay, where the Gloria Marina is located, to its beaches and lagoons.
In Rio's Olympic bid, officials promised that a major cleanup of waterways here would be among lasting legacies of the 2016 Summer Games but they have repeatedly come under fire for the sluggish progress of the cleanup. The bid pledged to slash the levels of sewage and garbage flowing into the Guanabara Bay by 80 percent in time for the Olympics by activating sewage treatment plants that had long gone under-used or were not in service at all, installing garbage-trapping nets at the mouths of rivers and deploying a fleet of trash-collecting boats.
The pipeline announced Tuesday was not among the projects initially promised but is a response to a very visible — and stinky — problem that's been in the media spotlight of late. During an Olympic sailing test event last month, athletes complained about the smell of sewage in the Marina, where the boats were docked.
At the project's signing ceremony, officials said ground could be broken as early as next week, with construction scheduled to last one year.
The head of Rio's Cedae water utility, Wagner Victer, said the initiative proved the government's commitment to cleaning up the Guanabara Bay.
"One hundred percent of the (cleanup) promises relating to the sites where the sailing competition is to be held will be kept a year before the Olympics," he said, adding that he hoped the latest project would silence critics who have urged Olympic events to an alternative venue due to health and safety concerns from the dirty water. "It is the best backdrop for sailing in the history of the Olympics."
He also shrugged off criticism, insisting that measures to cut down on the levels of pollution flowing into the bay were already making themselves felt. He pointed to recent news reports on the sightings of dolphins and sea horses, as well as improved water quality tests on a few area beaches, as marking a breakthrough.
"There are concrete improvements," Victer said. "There are people who have an extremely pessimistic view, who only see the part of the glass that needs filling and don't see the part of the glass that's full."
Rio is expected to spend about $20 billion, a mix of private and public money, preparing for the Olympics.