Cape Town - The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) has defended the City’s coastal waters discharge permits that were issued for the Hout Bay, Camps Bay and the Green Point Wastewater Treatment Works (WWTWs), amid increasing calls for alternative sewage disposal methods.
The DFFE said it was common practice in coastal cities around the world to discharge wastewater into the marine environment.
In South Africa this activity was legislated under the National Environmental Management: Integrated Coastal Management Amended Act, 2008 and the Coastal Waters Discharge Permit Regulations, 2019, it said.
Jo Barnes, senior lecturer emeritus in the global health department at the University of Stellenbosch, said sewage in certain areas of Cape Town had been discharged into the sea from marine outfalls for close on 100 years.
This was based on the mistaken belief that the sewage would simply be diluted and dispersed harmlessly.
Barnes said this had been shown all over the world to be a convenient and naïve assumption but so far the City seemed reluctant to admit this problem, let alone plan for alternative safe disposal of such sewage.
“All over the world the damage of decades of releasing sewage into the oceans is becoming increasingly evident, and the health and environmental damage that such a practice is causing is becoming more visible,” Barnes said.
The department said it considered alternative options during the decision-making process in granting permits to the City.
However, no other feasible options were available currently and the City could not cease the operations of the WWTWs as the municipality had a constitutional responsibility to deliver water and sanitation services to its citizens.
ActionSA is in the process of finalizing its appeal to the DFFE to stop the discharge of untreated effluent being pumped into the ocean. The National Sea Rescue Institute has also appealed against the granting of permits at all three outfalls.
Michelle Wasserman, ActionSA Western Cape Provincial Chairperson said, “On Monday I kayaked from Three Anchor Bay to the exit point of the Green Point sewage outfall, where I found islands of floating sewage, as well as sanitary pads, tampons, and condoms...
“Should our appeal against the granting of the permits be unsuccessful, ActionSA will consider the necessary legal steps to protect residents’ health, the environment and the tourism economy.”
Professor of chemistry at UWC, Leslie Petrik, said: “Cape Town marine outfalls have been contested for more than 100 years as our archival study of Cape Town has shown. Each time expediency and convenience have trumped public health and environmental concerns.”
Petrik said several ratepayers associations and individuals had objected to the granting of further permits when the original public participation was held in 2015, yet the DFFE had demonstrated it was not capable of holding the polluters to account, and was, “aiding and abetting the City to continue with this unsustainable practice”.
Water and Sanitation Mayco member Siseko Mbandezi said the permits were granted after the DFFE assessed that all three outfalls were operating within the limits of marine environmental standards as determined by pollution guidelines with no associated evidence of deleterious marine impacts.
“The City is assessing the feasibility of measures to further mitigate the environmental impact of the three coastal outfalls, including additional higher level pre-treatment on land prior to discharge.”