Trouble in Paradise – Fighting Water Pollution in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Part II: The Path Forward

BY ROBERT M. SUMMERS, PHD

In early 2013, environmental specialists from the U.S. EPA and the Maryland’s Departments of the Environment and Natural Resources traveled to Rio to meet with environmental officials and review the status of the Guanabara Bay restoration. Later that year, a delegation of state and municipal government and citizen representatives from Rio travelled to Maryland to learn more about the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort. And in December 2013, Governor Martin O’Malley led a delegation of Maryland government and business representatives, including two KCI senior managers, to Brazil to explore opportunities for cooperative projects. During the trip, O’Malley and Governor Cabral of Rio de Janeiro signed a technical cooperation agreement to share expertise in the states’ respective efforts to restore water quality of their bays.

To support the agreement, Rio’s Department of the Environment obtained funding from the Inter-American Development Bank and put out an RFP for technical services. KCI applied and was selected as part of a team, including the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) and a Brazilian company, Fundação Brasileira para o Desenvolvimento Sustentável (FBDS), to work with the government of Rio and municipal, business, university and citizen groups to develop a restoration plan for Guanabara Bay and recommend a restoration management and governance structure that will ensure that the restoration effort is sustained over the long-term.

A comprehensive cleanup plan for Guanabara Bay needs to consider both long-range strategic planning and short-term “guerrilla tactics” to address industrial waste and garbage, ambient water quality and sanitation of un-sewered areas. The cleanup plan must also have the full support of the governments, businesses and citizens that must take the actions needed to stem the flow of pollution and continue to protect the Bay in the future.

It has taken decades of consistent effort to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay, and the job is still not done. The Chesapeake Bay restoration has taught us many things that will help accelerate the restoration of Guanabara Bay. One of the most important is the need to set specific, measurable goals for all sources of pollution and to regularly track and report progress to the public regularly so they can see where their tax dollars are going and the benefits of their efforts to the health of the Bay. Maryland’s “BayStat” web page is a good example that will be imported and adapted to Guanabara Bay.

KCI was notified of its selection for the project in late 2014; however, as we have seen with the recent change in government in Brazil and Rio (both a new president and governor took office in 2015), there is a long transition period as many of the officials responsible for programs are replaced and ongoing programs, like the Guanabara Bay restoration, stall. In August 2015, recognizing that past efforts have not achieved their goals and that Rio will not meet its Olympic water quality committment, the new governor of Rio de Janeiro recently announced an agreement with the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro to develop a long-term restoration plan that will finally result in the restoration of Guanabara Bay and serve as a legacy of the Rio Olympics.

It is a very challenging project, but the KCI project team is working hard to help our Brazilian partners put in place a sustainable restoration effort to ensure that the all of the citizens of the state of Rio de Janeiro can finally see that Guanabara Bay is improving, that it can once again be a safe place to sail, fish and swim in the water and that it is worth the effort to restore the Bay and nearby ocean beaches to their former “post-card” glory.