Life in the Polish city of Bydgoszcz flows along the river Brda, which runs right through the centre. Each year throughout July and August, an international concert takes place with orchestras playing on floating stages. And so clean is the water that a triathlon takes place right in the heart of the city, which also plays host to Poland’s only open water swimming championship.
It wasn’t always this way. By the end of the Cold War, the riverbanks were run down and dangerous, and sewage outlets and factory waste discharge polluted its flow. But as Poland began to open up in the 1990s, so did the chance to revitalise the city’s lifeblood.
Seventeen kilometres of river were dredged. Sewage and other waste outlets were redirected or closed off, so that now as much as 94% of sewage is treated before being discharged into the river. All in all, so great were the improvements that the Brda is now ranked as the cleanest river in Poland. Even the river bus that ferries locals and tourists up and down its length is solar powered.
With the waters flowing cleanly again, the city was motivated to develop the boulevards that lined its banks, and encourage people to walk along them and take picnics on the river’s banks. A run down island in the river has also been restored, so it has become a place of walks, picnics, and outdoor events, now known as the Island of Museums.
Alongside the triathlon and annual music festival, many more tourist-friendly events and attractions have been created, such as the TeH2O Trail of Water, Industry and Crafts – a new experience presenting the water and industrial heritage of the city; the annual Great Rowing Regatta; and the Bydgoszcz Water Festival – a three-day event for watersports enthusiasts.
Since implementing all these measures, the numbers of tourists has risen dramatically, meaning opportunities for local entrepreneurs have also greatly increased, and many have set up or moved their businesses nearer the river. And it is not only the human population of Bydgoszcz that has welcomed the river’s return to health. In recent years rare species such as beaver, and otter have also come back.