Cleaning Up the Tiete


The Tietê River cuts through most of the state of São Paulo. It’s name in Tupi means “true waters”, but before it first appeared on a map in the mid-18th century, it was known by Amerindians as Anhembi (after a South American partridge). The river itself is said to be ten to fifteen million years old and has been used in the past by Amerindians, Bandeirantes (slave-hunters, and later miners, of the 16th-18th centuries), and clergymen. Historically, the Tietê has been used and abused more than it has been merely traversed.

During the 18th century, it was used for mining exploration and sugar production, with the color of the water being altered and the margins of the river being deforested. By the early 20th century, a large number of enterprises were regularly tossing their waste into the part of the river around São Paulo’s capital until it reached its current state. Today, it’s known for its bad smell, sewage, and flies but if the São Paulo’s current governor has his way, by 2015 the Tietê will be nice-smelling enough to offer boat tours to tourists. The near-century of waste-dumping caused the river to lose all its oxygen, though oxidation would be a later step in the process.

Cleaning up the Tietê isn’t a novel idea, as the government, together with many civil organizations, have been working on the Project Tietê since the early 1990s. The governor who initially got the ball rolling, Luiz Antônio Fleury Filho, said by the end of his mandate in 1995, you’d be able to drink a cup of water straight from the Tietê. His estimate was a few decades off, unfortunately. The project, currently in its third phase, spans over 500 public works (only half of the total for this phase). The cost from the start of the third phase in 2009 until now? A cool US$1.8 billion.

(The past is the future?)

I’ve argued before on my blog that the more touristic “calling cards” that São Paulo gets, the better off it will be. Most foreigners passing through the city only find out about the basics, such as the city’s size and perhaps the fact that it offers a lot in terms of nightlife and gastronomy. There’s definitely more to the city but the current attractions are smaller in size and tend to be relegated to the realm of the insider, or rather, the Paulistano.

As for if the current governor will have his way, I can say this: his party has been in control of São Paulo politics for the past 17 years (not to mention all the past presidents have hailed from São Paulo for the past 20 years straight). Here’s to hoping the World Cup and Olympics are a true cause for change.


3 thoughts on “Cleaning Up the Tiete

  1. I wrote a post on this recently when Governor Alckmin made the announcement about touristic boats starting to go up and down the Teitê by 2015. I have to say I was a little bit skeptical about this (and still am), especially about the boat part, but the possibility of the Tietê being sewage (and smell) free is something that I think all Paulistanos hope for. Now, it’s just case of them following through with it and getting it done. Fingers crossed.

    • Hi Andy,

      Yeah, I wrote the article a lil’ over 2 months back when Alckmin’s news was “news”, but due to a publishing agreement, I have to post it here 2 months after it’s posted on Street Smart Brazil. I saw that we both picked up on it and wrote sizable posts which I think is great as a public service, covering these kinds of issues. Anyways, I’m inclined to think the entire process will be seen through due to all the time and money being poured into it. There are certain programs that, once put into place, can’t really be backtracked on (Bolsa Família, UPP, etc). My hope would have been that no one dumped sewage (and, I’ve heard, large home appliances, among other oddities) in the first place due to having some respect for such a historic and far-reaching river. But it is what it is and now it requires gov’t intervention. Kind of a “the people do it and the gov’t figures it out later” approach which doesn’t serve anyone except, surely, by putting money in the politicians’ pockets. Then the people complain about corrupt politics…

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