The Camps Bay marine outfall plant caused a stench last Friday as an electrical fault rendered its pumps ineffective and resulted in the flooding of the pump station.
Camps Bay beach, Glen beach as well as the Camps Bay and Maidens Cove tidal pools had to be closed to the public.
On Saturday, the Atlantic Sun saw a few swimmers and surfers enter the water despite the warning of the lifeguards.
Last year the Atlantic Sun reported on a similar incident when a collapsed collector sewer produced an overflow, Seaboard sewage concerns, September 2, 2021.
The City’s water and sanitation teams attempted to use vacuum trucks to dispose the waste, but due to the huge volume the sewage had to be discharged from the pump station out to sea as a temporary measure.
Filmmaker Mark Jackson created a short documentary, Bay of Sewage in 2016; which emphasises the Atlantic seaboard’s effluent problem.
“Is there really that much difference between the sewage being on the beach, or being pumped out 24/7 just 700m from Maidens Cove where it can easily wash back to shore? We need an entire rethink of the system, not mere short-term bandage solutions. Here we dump effectively-raw sewage just 700m, at a depth of about 20m. We need a new plan, urgently,” he said.
According the City’s water quality ratings at recreational nodes conducted on January 21, Camps Bay has an excellent rating, with the Enterococci count being 3 per 100ml, while nearby Glen beach is rated poor with a measurement of 100 per 100ml.
“From a health perspective, the beaches are closely monitored and in the event of equipment failures, the City’s incident management protocol is activated to minimise any potential health impact on persons making use of the beaches that may be affected,” said Patricia van der Ross, mayoral committee member for community services and health.
“The protocol includes the temporary installation of warning signage, media releases, additional samples and closure of the affected beaches if necessary,” said Ms Van der Ross.
Dr Jo Barnes, senior lecturer emeritus in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at Stellenbosch University, says she is disappointed at how the City managed this dilemma.
“One would think that a city like Cape Town would be much better geared to coping with breakages and spills than this. Dumping sewage spills into the environment in this manner is not acceptable. There have been several reports in the media of the City’s serious under spending of their water and sanitation budget over the last few years. The neglect of the sanitation infrastructure of the City is starting to become visible in many, many places. The effect on the health of the population and the environment will take years to overcome. Disposing of such an amount of sewerage by pumping it into the nearest water course simply tips the consequences onto others who are unable to defend themselves or get accountability from those who made this decision,” said Dr Barnes.
Eddie Andrews, the mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment, says the City is aware of the inconvenience caused to the public.
Mr Andrews added that the City had put in place a number of measures to ensure public health and safety which included:
• Cordoning off the area with danger tape to prevent people from entering the water;
• Requesting City Law Enforcement and Lifesavers to patrol the beach and advise the public not to enter the water;
• Discharge the sewage directly into the sea to reduce, as far as possible, any beach contamination and to allow wave action/current to rapidly assimilate contaminated water;
• Issuing a media release advising the public of the closure of Camps Bay beach and surrounds. The message was also posted on the City’s social media platforms;
• Use of a drone to track the sewage plume and the use of this to information for management decisions;
• The collection of water samples to track water quality improvement and to determine when beaches may be open for swimming again; and
• Actively monitoring the beach on site to determine whether any other interventions were required.
Camps Bay and Clifton Ratepayers’ Association (CBCRA) chairperson Chris Willemse says it’s a disgrace that marine outfall plants (MOP) are still in use.
“The absolute irony of the situation is that the City have reacted to the emergency with great speed and resources but fail to comprehend that when this marine outfall plant is repaired, it is simply pumping the same (millions) of litres of raw sewerage, every day, a few hundred meters further into the bay. This intolerable situation has been covered up by officials and politicians alike over the years,” Mr Willemse said.
“Modern plants are not visible above ground nor are they sources of smell and, once in place, say under the sports field in that area, the surface can return to a reasonable normal. Now is the time for the City to enter into meaningful discussions with the community, as it is essential that the City and its citizens should be ensuring that our coastal waters are not polluted,” he said.
Dr Zahid Badroodien, city’s mayoral committee member for water and sanitation, says the long-term solution is to perform a full technical assessment and develop an informed plan to upgrade the outfall plants.
“The overall operating budget for all the outfalls is R38.8million and the overall repairs and maintenance budget is R4.5 million. Failures and breakdowns are unavoidable due to various reasons. These include electrical installations, the pump station’s location close to the sea and power cuts (load-shedding). Pump stations are not meant to operate with frequent stop and start actions due to their sensitive electrical and control components.” Dr Badroodien said.