Seaboard sewage concerns

Maiden’s Cove entrance, in the distance is Glen Beach and Camps Bay

Sewage pollution in the waters off the Atlantic seaboard was again raised after Maiden’s Cove and Glen Beach were closed to the public for five days last month when a collapsed collector sewer produced an overflow.

The two beaches were closed from Friday July 30 to Tuesday August 3.

Filmmaker Mark Jackson, who lives in the city centre, created a short documentary Bay of Sewage in 2016 emphasising the Atlantic seaboard’s wastewater problem.

He feels Blue Flag Status certification is not a reliable indicator of the state of the water.

Blue Flag beaches in the area include Camps Bay and Fourth Beach (“Blue flag status for Atlantic seaboard beaches”, December 3, 2020).

“As far as I’m aware, I believe the City has done absolutely nothing to mitigate against the terrible situation of millions of litres of effectively-untreated sewage effluent being pumped out daily, into our National Marine Park of the Cape Peninsula, which incorporates Camps Bay and Hout Bay. This incident was a reminder that we don’t even treat our sewage in Camps Bay. On the beachfront we have a pumping station, not a treatment station. This is no longer acceptable. As we’ve seen with the recent spill, sewage contamination can come and go within days. This shows what a farce any reliance on Blue Flag is, where testing is required only once every second week. With sewage effluent surfacing just 700 metres from Maiden’s Cove, clearly we need daily testing for contamination,” said Mr Jackson.

Marian Nieuwoudt, the City’s Mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment, said the Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa (WESSA) does the water assessments.

“Water quality sampling is conducted for the City’s Blue Flag Beaches during the summer months by an external and independent service provider in accordance with Blue Flag standards which are in accordance with international standards. These samples and results are therefore considered to be accurate and reliable,” Ms Nieuwoudt said.

The City said they do tests every two weeks for Enterococci and E.Coli at 99 sites across the coastline which is published on the City’s website.

However, when asked about damage to marine life, Ms Nieuwoudt said tests conducted have found it’s not adverse.

“Extensive tests and studies have been conducted and are ongoing. To date the results show that the impact is not ecologically deleterious, (in other words we have not yet seen a significant impact as a result of the marine outfalls). The outfalls operate in accordance with their original design specifications,” said Ms Nieuwoudt.

She said pollution is synonymous with coastal cities and that residents have a responsibility to limit pollution.

“All coastal environments adjacent to human settlements and cities across the world have some level of pollution.”

Dr Jo Barnes, senior lecturer emeritus in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at Stellenbosch University, believes that urban densification is adding to the pollution.

“From about Woodstock all around the coast to Hout Bay there are no proper sewage treatment works. The City pumps raw sewage into the sea at various points to the tune of 45 to 50 million litres a day (depending on drought conditions, etc),” said Dr Barnes.

The Camps Bay marine outfall was commissioned in 1977 while Green Point and Hout Bay started operating in 1993.

“The website of the City states that the outfall pipe at Camps Bay is 1.4 km long. That is a half-truth at best. Yes, that is the length, but what is omitted is that the pipe is laid at an angle so that the actual outfall point is only 700 m from the nearest shoreline – Maiden’s Cove. That is near enough for pollution from this pipe to reach the shore during onshore wind conditions and sea currents. It also at times reaches the actual main beach at Camps Bay.”

Ms Nieuwoudt responded by saying: “The effluent plume at Camps Bay diffuser is diluted such that it complies to the SA Marine Water Quality Guidelines for the natural environment in terms of all the required target values within the prescribed allowable mixing zone –this mixing zone is less than 300m radius of the outfall end diffusers.”

Professor Leslie Petrik, group leader at the Department of Chemistry, University of the Western Cape, believes families should be made aware of the products that get flushed down a toilet.

“A lot of our sewerage infrastructure is blocked because people don’t understand what should not be flushed, so there are things like disposable nappies and wet wipes, and wet wipes are a nightmare, it’s not a fabric that falls apart. If people could stop using disposable nappies and wet wipes they’d be doing the city’s sewerage system a huge favour, the City can upgrade the system as much as they want but the people need to be educated,” said Professor Petrik.

“In my research we are focusing on the chemical contaminants and if you think about what an average household uses in a day in terms of dishwashing liquid, washing powder, floor cleaner, disinfectant, pesticides, toothpaste, shampoo, just think about the amount of chemicals that flows through your house everyday and no one is talking to the public about reducing usage or switching to environmentally friendly products. Our chemical usage has increased over the years and one of the chemicals we found in very high concentrations in marine organisms is diclofenac which is in muscle rub. So you rub in your muscles, get relief but most of it washes off in your bath or shower and we found high levels of it in fish that we bought in Kalk bay. It is a persistent chemical and is known as a forever molecule so it does not degrade easily,” she said.

The Atlantic Sun emailed WESSA on Monday for a response but there was no reply at the time of going to print.

The view from Maiden’s cove beach.