By Nick Butler

Removing garbage from Guanabara Bay is the main objective for the State Government ahead of the sailing test event in August ©Getty ImagesRio State Government officials deny the scale of plans to tackle water pollution in the city ahead of Rio 2016 have been reduced, amid an insistence appropriate action is being taken to ensure the sailing test event in August goes ahead as planned. 

Pollution levels in the waters of the sailing venue on Guanabara Bay, as well as the triathlon and open water swimming venue on Copacabana Bay and the rowing venue at the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, have been among many concerns facing organisers in recent months.

With sailing the first test event in any sport taking place ahead of the Games, from August 2 to 8 this summer, it is feared planned developments in Guanabara Bay will not have begun and that pollution levels will therefore be too high for competition to take place.

International Sailing Federation head of competitions Alastair Fox told insidethegames last month he was confident the sailing event at Rio 2016 would be successful, but he feared the test event would be "difficult" because a scheme to deal with sewage levels would not have been completed.

Plans to develop a new collecting station in the neighborhood of Cidade Nova to collect sewage from some portions of the neighborhoods of Rio downtown, Tijuca, Praça da Bandeira, Catumbi, Cidade Nova, Estácio and Rio Comprido, and to direct the flow to the Alegria Sewage Treatment Station, are foreseen to begin in June and last for 18 months. 

But the State Government, who are responsible for dealing with pollution policies rather than the Rio 2016 Organising Committee, insist the part of the bay where sailing will be held has a safe level for swimming according to National Environmental Council criteria. 

They claim the issue of physical debris is a greater problem, and that this will be dealt with by August.

The State Government insist their plans for tackling pollution in Rio have not changed ©Getty ImagesThe State Government insist their plans for tackling pollution in Rio have not changed ©Getty Images

"The Rio 2016 sports competitions, to take place in the Guanabara Bay, will be held in an area whose main problem is floating garbage," a spokesperson told insidethegames.

"To make sure that such sports events be successfully accomplished, the State Government will deploy 10 cleaning boats to collect all this garbage.

"Three of these boats are already operating and the other seven will be procured by the end of April.

"Besides this, 11 barriers have been placed at the mouth of rivers and canals that flow into the Bay.

"Of these, two will be reconstructed and another three will be renovated, while eight other barriers will be placed."

Rio has endured a tumultuous time in recent weeks during which many aspects of their preparations have been strongly criticised, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has been forced to introduce task forces and more regular visits by executive director Gilbert Felli in a bid to alleviate concerns. 

Earlier this week, IOC vice-president John Coates admitted Rio 2016 preparations were the worst he had experienced in his long association with the Games, although he has since said an "excellent Games" can still be delivered. 

John Coates became the highest profile critique of Rio 2016 earlier this week ©Getty ImagesJohn Coates became the highest profile critique of Rio 2016 earlier this week
©Getty Images

Although the foremost concern relates to a behind-schedule construction timetable, pollution levels has been high on the list, after tackling environmental concerns was billed as one of the main legacy opportunities provided by the Games.

But it has been reported in Brazil that the State Government have lowered its initial plans to bring about this environmental change.

This has been strongly denied by the State Government as they claim the project is part of a longer term plan above and beyond Rio 2016. 

"Since its launch in 2007, the Clean Guanabara Bay Plan has always been estimated to cost 2.5 billion real (£668 million/$1.1 billion/€812 million) and includes 12 activities to be undertaken by the environment office to depollute the Guanabara Bay, instead of solely the projects that have always been connected to the Olympic Games," the spokesperson said. 

"There was no investment reduction.

"Cutting down pollution by 80 per cent is still the State Government's goal.

"Note that this is a long-term project that began in 2007, before Rio ran to be the host city for the Olympic Games.

"Precisely because of that, this is not a project that remained connected to the legacy from the Rio 2016 Games.

"It must be made clear that this is a State legacy, a legacy for the population, not just for the Games."

Members of the Rio 2016 Organising Committee have also insisted environmental improvement will be a major Olympic legacy ©ITGMembers of the Rio 2016 Organising Committee have also insisted environmental improvement will be a major Olympic legacy ©ITG

It was explained that plans to clean Guanabara Bay consist of four main areas of activity: sewage management, garbage treatment, environmental recovery and forest restoration.

"For each of these activities, there are 12 specific projects to clean 80 per cent of the Guanabara Bay," the spokesperson explained to insidethegames. 

"These projects began in a planned and integrated manner in 2007.

"As a result, there was a 160 per cent increase in the volume of sewage treated in the Guanabara Bay, from 2,300 litres of sewage treated per second in 2007 to 6,000 litres of sewage treated per second today."

But with many complaints that little physical improvements have yet been realised, it remains to be seen if either the improvements required for Rio 2016 or the wider benefits will ultimately be seen, and a degree of scepticism in these promises can be expected.  

Another criticism is that a 30-month dredging and drainage legacy project for the Barra Lakes - close to the main Olympic Park where 10 of the 28 sports will be held - which is due to be completed by the time the Games begin, has not started and will not do so until June.

This was something admitted by the spokesperson, albeit with the corollary that the work plan will be amended in order to ensure the project is delivered on time.

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