Wastewater: City must avoid marine disaster

Published Dec 11, 2016


WE AS citizens are aware of the extraordinary beauty of Cape Town and the coastline. Hence we raise our concerns and voices in order to preserve it.

Worldwide, oceans are on the edge of collapse. They are used as dumping zones for sewage, toxic chemicals, hazardous metals, radioactive waste and plastic.

We do not want to face a similar marine disaster in Cape Town as happened to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, which had to be declared dead this year, bringing an end to the colourful life of the world's single largest structure of living organisms.

After 25 million years, due to water pollution and exploitation, we accomplished it in only 25 years.

The City needs to accept that we as citizens refuse to bath in sewage, neither deriving from the outfalls, faulty pump stations nor misused stormwater drainages. Only one cholera case – and it would be more like an epidemic acquired through bathing in our seawater – would have disastrous implications for our tourist industry.

There is no integrity in the reporting of the City and informing the public. They take the more favourable test samples to use it for their arguments and sweep the alarming test results underneath the carpet. Neither did they acknowledge the elevated 660cfu/100ml E. coli level reported by the Water Watch group, nor the highly elevated values found in other research articles. E. coli is an internationally acknowledged parameter for wastewater pollution, as faeces contain E.coli and enterococcus.

Scientific evidence is being mixed up in their arguments: natural algae versus toxic algae bloom as an indicator of large-scale marine mortality and the result of an excess of nutrients (particularly phosphorus and nitrogen) into 

Foam related to kelp is a natural coastal sign, but yellow to brown foam can also be an alarming sign for eutrophication caused by nutrients and sewage.

National guidelines are applied for water quality without any proof that these levels are not harmful.

This was chosen as a convenient threshold because certain precautions (clean rivers, clean stormwater, no outfalls) have to be implemented to achieve lower levels.

If they would apply the 100cfu/100ml standard, most of our beaches would have to be closed on a regular basis. Other countries have implemented lower standards for E. coli to reduce possible health risks.

Research shows that the current practice is harmful for our environment, not sustainable and out of date. For these reasons, other coastal cities in Canada, Europe, Reunion or Australia have moved away from this inappropriate way to treat our sewage by simply pumping it into the ocean. They have wastewater implemented treatment plants to reduce the burden of disease and save lives caused by respiratory tract infection, renal failure, hepatitis or Cholera, as examined in a study done for the World Health Organisation (WHO).

In the time of climate change, recurrent droughts and an already overpopulated city, it is wasteful to dilute sewage with precious fresh water and with that place an even greater strain on to our water resources instead of implementing wastewater treatment plants that can filter chemicals and bacteria out of the sewage, recycle it to our system and reuse it.

Cape Town acclaims for itself to be one of the best and leading cities in the world. Now is the time to prove it.

Weimann is a Paediatrician, Public Health specialist and faculty member of the University of Cape Town, Zurich and Goettingen. Her current research topics are health implications of wastewater pollution and the impact of Climate Change on health. She is part of the Water Watch team that is supported by Code4Africa to examine the water quality of Camps Bay and Clifton Beach through drone flights and daily water testing

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