Amsterdam’s journey toward cleaner water in the Amstel River has been marked by key moments. Initiatives such as Sarphaat’s early efforts in 1847 to combat cholera outbreaks laid the groundwork for future improvements. Notably, the improved of the sewage system to reduce CSO’s (combined sewer overflows) to max 3 a year significantly improved water quality. the relocation of the RWZI in 2006 also helped, eliminating direct sewage lines into the river and enhancing its purity. 

Another crucial factor has been the shift in public perception. Once deemed unhealthy for swimming, the inauguration of the Amsterdam City Swim in 2011 marked a turning point for the Amstel River. The participation of Her Royal Highness Queen Maxima underscored the growing confidence in the river’s cleanliness, helping the reputation of swimability. 

Today, the advocacy of individuals like ex-alderman Eric van den Burg and Maarten Ouboter further promotes the vision of swimmable rivers, highlighting the collective commitment to sustaining the Amstel’s water quality.

Amsterdam's timeline

Key moments in Amsterdam’s swimmability
First form of sewage system in Amsterdam.
Introduction of the “smeerpijp”: Infamously dirty sewage pipe.
Amstel is unswimmable due to sewage outleaks.
Commitment for Amstel clean-up.
Connection of last canal houses to sewage system.
Enhancements in water quality in the Amstel River are visually evident.
Announcement of Sewage Treatment Plant. No direct pipeline to The Amstel river anymore.
Inaugural Amsterdam City Swim. Signifying clean rivers

drivers to success


Information provision of water quality monitoring and forecasting ensures safe waters and improves public perception of swimmability.

Improved perception

Positive public perception of urban water, triggered by for example (sports) events, accelerates the use of urban water for swimming.

Public Commitment

Public advocating for liveable waterfronts and improved water quality leads to effective change.

Reducing CSO discharge

Decreased combined sewer overflow discharge greatly reduces water pollution and enables safe swimming


Our partners who have made their contributions.


Waterschap Amstel Gooi en Vecht, gemeente Amsterdam

Waterschap AGV

Sterke dijken en schoon water

Amsterdam Municipality

I Amsterdam

Blogs & knowledge

The Amstel Swiminar

Last Friday, on World Water Day, Swimmable Rivers teamed up with WorldWaternet to pay homage to water in a unique way—by taking a refreshing dive into the Amstel River!…

AIWW 2023

Last week Swimmable Rivers was present at the Amsterdam International Waterweek (AIWW). Together with Paul Kennouche from the city of Paris, Mariett…

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