Cape Town - Residents in Camps Bay and Green Point are at the end of their tether with the City’s continued denial of the dangers of pumping raw sewage into the ocean through its marine outflows.
At a public “Bays of Sewage” meeting, the City was lambasted for its years of “denialism” when presented with learned experiences and scientific analysis of the impacts on environmental and human health caused by its practice.
Experts, environmental activists and concerned community members gathered at Camps Bay High School to further their fight in the war against sewage pollution in the ocean from the City’s marine outfalls.
The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) granted the City a 5-year permit to pump sewage into the ocean via marine outflows at Green Point, Camps Bay and Hout Bay, having assessed that all three outfalls operated within the limits of marine environmental standards with no associated evidence of deleterious marine impacts.
Large parts of the scientific community, as well as regular beach users, have contested this and actively appealed against the department’s decision to grant these permits.
At the meeting, local marine conservation photographer Jean Tresfon shared shocking aerial shots taken along Hout Bay, Green Point, Camps Bay and Table Bay from 2014 up to 2022, which show large plumes of sewage that cannot be seen by typical beach users.
Tresfon said: “I’m not a scientist or an engineer, but you don’t have to be either to understand that dumping up to 55 million litres per day of raw sewage into the ocean is not a longterm sustainable solution and there are some very real problems already starting to make themselves felt. At the very least we need to treat the sewage to an acceptable level before it goes into the ocean.”
Both the City and department have said the effluent discharged was not “raw sewage” but preliminary treated sewage. Tresfon, together with the other speakers, argued that preliminary “treatment” was just screening of solids, leaving the rest of the sewage pumped into the ocean untreated in any way.
Tresfon said: “The City and DFFE’s constant denial of this fact is representative of their constant attempts to mislead the public. It’s obviously raw.”
One of the speakers was epidemiologist Dr Jo Barnes, who has been involved in the matter of sewage failures and its impacts on ecology and health since 1998.
Barnes warned of a number of consequences that she believed were not properly addressed, despite having been raised for years.
Barnes said a huge problem was the increasing antibiotic resistance in children, which researchers have connected to sewage pollution in the environment and has been a concern in hospitals.
Barnes said: “The illnesses caused by the pollution are underestimated and the impact is worse than we thought … At Tygerberg, Groote Schuur and Red Cross hospitals, we are well aware of the diarrhoea season every year, but there is also a diarrhoea season linked to sewage.”
Barnes said it was becoming very difficult to ignore or deny the evidence.
“Denying something does not fix the problem and I think the City has realised that now.”
Professor of chemistry at the University of Western Cape, Leslie Petrik, elaborated on her research and how the sewage effluents being discharged from the marine outfalls were contaminated with persistent harmful chemicals that have been shown to negatively affect fertility levels in many different marine species, including the endangered African Penguins.
Petrik called for a Permit Advisory Forum to be convened with community members to bring their environmental concerns to the fore as the DFFE did not conduct a public participation process before granting the City its permits.
Stakeholders at the meeting also called on the City to find land-based solutions to avoid further environmental degradation and build a wastewater treatment plant to treat the effluent being pumped into the ocean, by using its financial reserves.
Alex Lansdowne, chairperson of the City’s mayoral advisory committee on water quality and wetlands, said: “The largest capital investments of this political term will be in water and sewage. That shows where our priorities are: improving water quality and making sure the taps don’t run dry.
“Later this year a feasibility report we commissioned will be released which will also speak to alternatives to marine outfalls. There are new technologies that can be used as solutions,” Lansdowne said.
Water and sanitation acting Mayco member Siseko Mbandezi said, “Based on what I have seen and heard tonight, I am equally concerned as everyone in this room and can give the commitment that as the City we need engage and deal with the issue of the marine outfalls so that there is a continuous engagement between the City’s scientists and engineers and the scientists and engineers sitting here tonight, so that at the end we get a solution to the problem.”
Caroline Marx, director of Rethink The Stink, a non-profit focused on advocacy and activism around the dangers of sewage pollution, highlighted that sewage pollution was widespread in Cape Town rivers, and affected all four of its recreational vleis with some beaches also zoned red or unsafe for swimming.
Marx said, “Recognising the need , Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis has made inland water quality and sanitation a Mayoral Priority with greatly increased targets and budget and very real progress… In March 2022 the City gave the assurance that they were reassessing marine outfalls, unfortunately this assessment will only be available in the second half of 2023,
“What has become very clear is that we cannot rely only on politicians, officials or even
government enforcement agencies to protect our environment ,in the Milnerton Lagoon case they have all failed, it needs informed active citizens to question and hold them to account,” Marx said.