Raising a stink about sewage in our sea

About 30 residents and representatives from various organisations attended a meeting at Hangberg Recreation Centre to discuss sewage disposal from marine outfalls. Picture: Karen Watkins.

We need a better way of dealing with our waste than pumping it out to sea – this was the general consensus at a public meeting in Hout Bay last week.

The City is holding a series of meetings to hear from the public on the issue of sewage disposal from the marine outfalls in Hout Bay, Green Point, and Camps Bay.

This follows appeals by several organisations in January and February to the granting of the permits to the City to allow continued sewage disposal into the ocean.

Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) Minister Barbara Creecy, in her appeal decision of June 10, said the City had failed to notify interested parties that the permits had been granted or to make a public announcement regarding sewage release permits in 2019 and 2022.

About 30 residents and representatives from various organisations attended the meeting at Hangberg Recreation Centre on Thursday October 5.

Kirsten Wilkins, representing Zutari, an infrastructure engineering and advisory practice acting as the intermediary between the public and the City in evaluating the appeal and legal procedures related to sewage management, emphasised the environmental impact of sewage disposal and said sewage plants were ill-equipped to effectively filter contaminants, improve water quality and reduce urban stormwater run-off.

Janssen Davies, chairman of both the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa board and the Hout Bay Rivers Catchment Forum, questioned the City’s compliance record for sewage disposal and asked whether the City had faced penalties over the past five years.

City officials at the meeting responded that the City had been compliant and had not been penalised.

However, Action SA spokesperson Sandie MacDonald cited documents that she said he been obtained under the Promotion of Access to Information Act and showed incidents of non-compliance with provisions outlined in the Hout Bay marine outfall permit issued in 2019.

“The City of Cape Town failed to adhere to critical provisions outlined in the permit, notably with regard to effluent quantity and quality monitoring, consistently surpassing both the permitted quantity and quality thresholds. Importantly, non-compliance with these monitoring requirements constitutes a criminal offence under the requirements of the permit,” she said.

Mr Davies said that credible scientific evidence presented by experts Professor Leslie Petrik and Dr Jo Barnes showed the harmful effects of untreated sewage on marine life and the potential health risks for humans consuming seafood and using the sea for recreation. He called for an independent environmental risk assessment and mitigation recommendations to inform more sustainable sewage discharge decisions.

Dr Cleeve Robertson, a Hout Bay resident and CEO of the National Sea Rescue Institute, stressed the economic consequences of poor sewage management, particularly the potential harm to tourism in communities such as Hout Bay.

Linda Schmiedeke conducted a study for Lukhozi, City-appointed consulting engineers, that earlier this year concluded that much of the pollution in Hout Bay’s waterways had its source in overcrowded Imizamo Yethu (“Rivers flowing with problems,” Sentinel. April 29, 2022).

“We need to consider the impact load shedding and vandalism have on our pump stations,” she said. “When these fail, the raw sewage overflows directly into the river or the sea, without any screening or even minor processing. We need a much better solution to dealing with effluent. Pumping it out to sea is not the answer and has serious consequences for us all,” said Ms Schmiedeke.

Jackie Whales, from the Friends of Hout Bay Rivers, questioned the footprint of the Llandudno sewage plant and the feasibility of establishing a smaller facility in Hout Bay. She stressed the importance of considering environmental costs and called for proactive measures to prevent chemical and pharmaceutical contamination.

Caroline Marx, from anti-pollution activist group Rethink the Stink, emphasised that environmental laws prohibited the discharge of waste, including raw sewage, into underwater nature reserves, such as the marine protected area off Hout Bay. She called for a clear explanation of health risks associated with polluted water for swimmers, canoeists, fisherfolk, and beachgoers.

Mayoral committee member for water and sanitation Zahid Badroodien, who did not attend the meeting, said the City had initiated a study to explore alternative options and costs for marine outfalls. A draft report was under review, and community engagements would follow later this year to inform the public and coordinate with regulatory bodies.

The outcome would be submitted to the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure and the DFFE, which would then issue the permit or make recommendations to the City, said Dr Badroodien.

Other meetings are being held on Thursday October 19 at Camps Bay High School, at 5pm, and on Tuesday October 24 at Sea Point Hall, at 5pm.

Submit your comments until Tuesday November 21, by hand at your nearest sub-council office or on the City’s website. Alternatively, call 021 400 6686 or email nathan.fisher@capetown.gov.za

Action SA spokeswoman Sandie MacDonald cited documents that she said he been obtained under the Promotion of Access to Information Act and showed incidents of non-compliance with provisions outlined in the Hout Bay marine outfall permit issued in 2019. Picture: Karen Watkins.