Fernanda Lima is on the frontline of the campaign to ensure that the water of Rio’s Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, venue for the Olympic rowing regatta, is safe and clean.
Every morning at 6 a.m., she and a pilot jump into a motorboat and visit four different points on the lagoon.
She uses the powers of her nose and eyes, as well as more technical gear, to test the water quality and report back for the World Rowing Federation’s (FISA) daily assessment.
“It’s important work,” she said, sitting down with a coffee at the Lagoa Stadium after the morning run.
The water quality at the lagoon and at Guanabara Bay, site of the sailing events, has been a big worry since Rio was awarded the games.
The lagoon boasts a spectacular setting, lying north of the storied Ipanema beach area and overlooked by forested mountains, including Corcovado and the Christ the Redeemer statue.
But at certain times, sewage spills and other pollution has been bad. Heavy rains can wash all sorts of nasty things into the lagoon.
Last year, tonnes of dead fish were floating on the water and had to be removed. Residents complained of the stench.
A strain of E. coli that could cause gastrointestinal illness was also found.
The water quality has thus been monitored intensely by FISA, working with local environmental authorities. Measures included removing illegal sewer connections, clearing weeds, and managing the gates to the canal which links the lagoon to the sea.
FISA declared it was satisfied there was no risk to athletes, but no one is now sitting back.
CHECKING THE PIPES
Born and bred in Rio de Janeiro, Lima has been making her daily checks since July 18 and has reported no problems. Every morning, she visits three rainwater pipes and a spot in the middle of the lagoon.
“First I look to see if there are problems, then I smell. Then we do a test sample. If it is yellow or brown, it is a problem, although if it’s a little yellow its OK,” she said.
“I call in to the manager as I am doing it – ‘Pipe 2 colour OK’ – then go to the next pipe.”
The information is fed into the daily report. Her section is officially called the Visual and Olfactory Investigation.
The run takes about 30 minutes. “Then I have coffee and breakfast.”
In the afternoon, Lima is back in the boat taking water samples. These will be sent to laboratories for testing for E. coli, found in fresh water, and enterococci, found in marine waters. Both sea and fresh water flow into the lagoon.
Her other duties include checking on a bird which is nesting on the shore in its own enclosure, and inspecting generators for oil spills. If there are any concerns, she might go back out again at night.
The daily reports have assessed the water quality so far as excellent and FISA executive director Matt Smith even declared on Saturday it was good enough to drink.
The main danger for rowers is if they fall in. High winds whipped up the waters in the early days of the regatta and so far two boats have capsized in competition and two in training.
Rain fell on Monday morning but Fernanda said there was nothing to make her nostrils twitch.