Amsterdammers have a wealth of transportation options, including metro, light rail, train, bus, car, motorbike, bicycle, and, of course, boat. In Amsterdam, the canals are essentially wet roads; “vehicles” park along the sides while traffic passes between at varying speeds.
While my husband and I cruised in a tour boat through Amsterdam’s canals in November, we passed these rowers, which got me to thinking. Just as our boat was like a bus, the rowers were like cyclists trying to steer clear of the larger, faster traffic. So what would be the equivalent of the pedestrian? Swimmers came to mind, but I did not see anyone swimming in the canals. Was it just too cold or was the canal water just too nasty?
A View on Cities states that “the canals are used as sewage dumps for the many houseboats that line the city’s waterways.” And yet Amsterdam City Swim hosts an annual fundraising swim through city canals to raise money for underfunded research into underexposed diseases. So just how clean is the water?
The answer is…it’s not clean, but it’s never been cleaner. Hmm. A water company monitors water quality, removes floating and non-floating debris, and floods the canals where necessary. Even so, Amsterdam City Swim warns that waterborne bacteria presents a minimal risk of infections, particularly of the gastrointestinal tract, and encourages swimmers to protect eyes (goggles), ears (earplugs), mouth (proper breathing technique, i.e., don’t take in or swallow the water), and body (wetsuits, absence of open wounds, and tetanus vaccination, if needed).
In a roundabout way, I found my answer. The canal water is not considered clean enough to swim in, but at least one day a year, sometime in September (on the 8th in 2013), Amsterdam has canaldestrians.