New initiative to tackle sewage problem

Water Watch SA is a group that is monitoring the sewage outfalls on the Atlantic Seaboard They have done several tests so far that have come back with varied results.

A new initiative to monitor Atlantic Seaboard sewage outfalls with tests and drone footage is officially under way.

Water Watch SA, which was started by Social Weaver, says more needs to be done to fix the sewage situation in Green Point, Camps Bay and Hout Bay. They say that up to 50 million litres of sewage is being pumped into the Atlantic Ocean daily (“Ocean choking on sewage,” Atlantic Sun, November 24).

They have taken 40 samples over the past two weeks and say there have been two tests, one in Camps Bay and the other in Clifton, that have shown high E.coli levels.

The Water Watch project, which is being funded by Code For Africa, also met with the City of Cape Town last week.

“Many complex issues were raised, which we’re going to deal with in a series of Facebook posts over the next few weeks,” said Steve Kromberg, one of the founders of the project. “The City gave us an off-the-record briefing on the research being done by the CSIR as part of the City’s application to for a licence to continue using the marine outfalls.”

The City was not prepared to make its research findings public until the CSIR’s report was complete sometime later in December, he said.

Water Watch has done testing at some of the beaches, and Mr Kromberg said initial water tests taken last month showed 40 cfu/100ml on 4th Beach Clifton, no E.coli on 2nd Beach, no E. Coli in front of the pump station on Camps Bay Beach (near Glen Beach) and 121 cfu/100ml at the southern end of Camps Bay Beach (in front of the lifesavers’ hut).

Water Watch has taken four samples each weekday since Monday November 21, testing for E.coli.

They have laboratory results for six of these days. Of these, one result for Camps Bay was 121 cfu/100ml and one result for Clifton was 660 cfu/100ml.

A cfu refers to “colony forming units” and is used to estimate the number of viable bacteria or fungal cells in a sample.

Professor Edda Weimann, who is a public health specialist at UCT, is working with the Water Watch team. She said the South African guideline for E.coli at public beaches was 250 although it is as low as 100 in some countries.

“It affects people who have vulnerable immune systems. It is a problem that has been completely ignored and swept under the carpet.”

Mr Kromberg said fortnightly sampling of the water, like the City does, was unreliable because there could be long periods of bad water quality before a beach had to be closed.

“This is why we at WaterWatch SA have decided to test daily, at four sites on the two beaches.

“We’ve been doing tests every day for the past two weeks, other than the two with high E.coli levels, there haven’t been other alarming results.”

City of Cape Town spokeswoman Priya Reddy confirmed that the City had met with the group to discuss the operation of the long sea sewage outfalls and present evidence showing that these were not impacting on in-shore water quality.

“The City has been working with the CSIR for the last 12 months doing extensive analysis of the outfalls and the associated marine and coastal environment. This study is exceptionally detailed and assesses all aspects of the environment,” Ms Reddy said.

“The final report is due for completion this calendar year. The City is, however, very pleased with the initial results and findings from this extensive research and analysis.

“The City remains committed to performing the testing required in terms of the South African Water Quality Guidelines for Coastal Marine Waters in order to determine long-term water quality trends.

“Weekly or bi-monthly testing is sufficient to determine whether there are any persistent water quality issues.”

Ms Reddy added: “E.Coli and enterococci bacteria normally live in the intestines of people and animals. Most E.Coli are harmless and are actually an important part of a healthy human intestinal tract. However, some E.Coli are pathogenic, meaning they can cause illness. As such, the presence of E.Coli does not necessarily guarantee that illness will follow.”