Sewage issues resurface

The Camps Bay and Clifton Ratepayers’ Association (CBCRA) says the City of Cape Town is acting illegally by discharging sewage into the ocean on the Atlantic Seaboard.

The matter was discussed at the association’s annual general meeting last week.

Up to 50 million litres of sewage is being pumped into the ocean every day from outfalls in Green Point, Camps Bay and Hout Bay.

Some experts say this is doing irreversible damage to the ocean (“Ocean choking on sewage”, Atlantic Sun, November 24 2016).

The CBCRA says the City is seeking to renew its licence with the Department of Environmental Affairs to discharge sewage into a marine reserve. However, the association says this shouldn’t be considered as an option.

CBCRA chairperson, Chris Willemse, said residents had decided to take legal opinion on the matter.

“Bearing in mind that (the outfall plant) discharges raw sewage into a declared Marine Protected Area, legal opinion is that it is illegal and cannot ever obtain the operating permit that the City is currently seeking, plain and simple.”

Mr Willemse said the proposed Maiden’s Cove development would add a tremendous amount of raw sewage to an already overloaded system.

He said the ratepayers would like to work with the City of Cape Town to find an alternative solution.

Local film-maker Mark Jackson was a guest speaker at the meeting.

His short documentary, titled Bay of Sewage, went viral when it was released in November last year on Youtube. The 12-minute film focused on the Camps Bay outfall and the damage that it is causing the surrounding environment (“Spotlight on sewage in new doccie”, Atlantic Sun, December 15 2016.)

The film has been viewed more than 65 000 times.

After the screening of the documentary at the meeting, Mr Jackson said there seemed to be general concern for the ongoing situation and there was support for more research.

“There was also a worry that the council was not owning up to the issue properly.” Mr Jackson also believes that the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) report, that was commissioned by the City of Cape Town to test water off the Atlantic Seaboard, needs to be released to the public.

He also called for independent water testing off the coast to become a regular practice.

“Before solutions can be found, we need to agree there is a problem. So far, the City seems to be refusing to even acknowledge any problem exists. But we have to work together. We are all the city.”

Mr Jackson said a sequel is in the works with a focus on the sewage outfalls in Green Point and Hout Bay. He said he would start a crowdfunding campaign for the sequel in October.

However, Justin O’Riain, a water pollution expert at UCT, said the impact of pollution was having a much greater impact on rivers rather than the ocean.

“The latest findings from the CSIR report suggest that sewage in the Atlantic ocean is having a negligible impact on marine life and water quality. It is important to remember that most of the sewage is human faeces, urine and waste water associated with washing both ourselves and our clothes.

“Consequently the bulk of sewage is biodegradable and when combined with the massive dilution effect of the ocean the impacts even close to the outfall sites are surprisingly low. It would appear that our rivers are being impacted much more than the ocean with limited dilution especially during summer months when flow is low.”

He said, given our reliance on freshwater systems for drinking, this was a much greater priority for Cape Town residents than pollution in the ocean.

Mr O’Riain believes the City should be finding alternative methods for the discharge of sewage into the ocean.

However, he added: “In the interim and during the current water crisis, the focus needs to be on our freshwater resources, specifically our rivers. This is where the impact of sewage is greatest and the CSIR report does not suggest that the animals in the ocean are suffering significant impacts even very close to the pipe outlet. By comparison our rivers are in straight-jackets and adding pollution has severe ecological impacts on plants, animals and the very resource that we reply on to survive. We need to clean up our act – rivers first and then the oceans. We need to ensure that independent research informs authorities and ultimately the public in making decisions about pollution priorities.”

In response to a media query, Xanthea Limberg, the City’smayoral committee member for informal settlements, water, waste services and energy, said the City’s water testing method was adequate.

“The scientific studies and reviews confirm this. Long-term water testing stretching some 22 years, based on both international and national standards and norms, shows that the water at Clifton and Camps Bay meets the highest standards for recreational quality. The outfalls were designed in accordance with the highest global standards and the City’s marine outfalls have been in operation for some 30 years. The CSIR report and the external review show scientifically that the outfalls are operating and performing as per design and as expected.”

Ms Limberg also confirmed that the “extensive analysis” and report by the CSIR had been completed.

“To ensure scientific rigour, the City had the report reviewed by an external specialist and this review has also been completed.”

The report and its supporting external review would now be submitted to the Department of Environmental Affairs, she said.

However, the City did not confirm whether the report would be released to the public at any stage.

Ms Limberg added: “Marine outfalls will remain part of the City’s wastewater management system. The City remains committed to engaging with the community on this and the broader issues of waste generation in general.”

Mr Willemse added that, ultimately, the residents would like to work with the City of Cape Town to find alternative solutions to the sewage outfalls.