Building trust for sewage matters

A warning sign and tape warned people not to use this part of Camps Bay beach, this was in February 2022.

Dr Zahid Badroodien, who wants to create a climate of trust, presented the process of public participation on the marine outfalls to residents at Camps Bay high school.

The Atlantic Sun was at the meeting (“Have your say on pumping of sewage into sea”, September 28, 2023.)

“It is important for the City to build trust with the public by engaging on matters that are important to all of us such as coastal water quality. Having a public meeting to launch the details of the public participation process is one of the key steps to help building the City’s relationship with the public and that is the reason why we are having more public meetings in different areas,” said Dr Badroodien.

According to Dr Badroodien, the City will respond to the comments and questions it receives before sending the National DFFE both the City’s responses and the public’s comments and questions for consideration of the applications.

“The City has commissioned a study on the feasibility and costing of various alternative options regarding the marine outfalls. A draft scoping report for this study has been submitted and is currently under review with the City. Once the final report is issued and the outcomes of the study have been considered, further community engagements are planned for later this year, to inform the public on the content of the report and on the way forward regarding the outfalls. Even this will be submitted to DWS / DFFE for its consideration,” he said.

He continues by saying that the City maintains operation of the marine outfalls in accordance with all current license requirements and permissions issued by the Department of Water and Sanitation/DFFE.

Professor Leslie Petrik, group leader of environmental and nano sciences at UWC says that it is imperative that the residents have their say.

“If the public do not make their voices heard, and if they do not strongly object to this disgusting practice, the City will take their silence to mean the city can continue to pump raw sewage and poorly treated sewage effluents into the ocean, which continue to pollute our beaches with sewage,” said Professor Petrik.

She says that despite their own data indicating a serious sanitation issue, the City has chosen to disregard the evidence of a sanitation catastrophe on the beaches and the nearby ocean.

“Occasionally the City will post a health hazard notice on a beach but the public generally do not understand what those notices mean. The studies the City are referring to are highly problematic as the City commissioned them and paid for them. The studies are highly misinterpreted by the City spokesperson who only quotes positive items out of context and does not tell the whole story,” she said.

Dr Jo Barnes, senior lecturer emeritus in the faculty of medicine and health sciences at Stellenbosch University says that the City have acknowledged that the sewage released into the ocean is not treated or even partially treated, but simply macerated — pushed through a metal screen and the big solids, that is plastic, nappies, etc removed — before being released into the ocean.

She offers three considerations for the public while making comments about the situation:

• Sewage contains a high concentration of substances that are dangerous to health. It can cause a range of serious diseases which is why it is a critical responsibility of every municipality to keep untreated sewage out of the environment, she says.

• The ocean is not a delete button, she says. Sewage does not disappear when diluted with seawater. On the contrary, it causes harm to the seabed and marine life over a much wider area than previously admitted.

• Contamination to seawater and beaches will damage one of the City’s major income streams, namely tourism. The potential economic harm from that is huge and a risk that the City management should not inflict on its inhabitants, she said.

“The scientific evidence of harm to the ocean and pollution of the environment (including disease risk) has now become so strong and extensive that it is difficult to ignore. In the intervening years since 2015 the scientists who reported increasing concerns about the process have had their reputations questioned and their evidence discounted, but that approach only bought the City some time. Such defence tactics inevitably backfire when the signs of harm become undeniable,” said Dr Barnes.

Sewage was pumped in to the waters at Camps Bay when a Marine Outfall plant broke down in February 2022.