Mark Byrnes is a senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
Nearly 70 percent of the city's sewage spills, untreated, into the Atlantic Ocean and Guanabara Bay.
Rio is famous for its beach culture. But the city's water remains shockingly polluted with garbage and sewage overflow, including the beaches where 2016 Olympic events are scheduled to be held.
With illegally built drainage systems and poorly constructed sewage connections, water pollution has long been a problem for Brazil's second biggest city. According to an Associated Press report from last year, nearly 70 percent of the city's sewage goes untreated before ending up into the Atlantic Ocean and Guanabara Bay. The same report says that the average fecal pollution rate in the waters near the future Olympic Park for the 2016 Games are "78 times that of the Brazilian government's 'satisfactory' limit.'"
In 2012, various state and city agencies formed the "Sena Limpa" program. The program started off with a $65 million investment to clean up four beaches. A $87 million second phase is on its way too, with plans to clean up six more beaches. According to the Rio Times, two government environmental organizations closed over a dozen landfills located along the Guanabara Bay in 2012.
Progress has been slow so officials are also rolling out garbage boats, chains of plastic buoys, and building "river treatment units" which, according to the AP, filter incoming trash and waste before being put on garbage trucks and sent to landfill.
Two years away from hosting the Olympics, Rio's water pollution is under a bigger spotlight than ever. Officials promise to lower the amount of pollution in the Guanabara Bay by 80 percent before the Summer Games. Last December, an Olympic sailor from Denmark after checking out bay (where sailing and wind surfing events are scheduled to be held) called it "the most polluted place" he's ever been.