Cape Town must get public input on sewage in the sea


By Steve Kretzmann, GroundUp

Several organizations have lodged appeals with the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment regarding the granting of permits to the Cape Town Metro Council to pump sewage into the sea at three locations.

In her decision, Minister Barbara Creecy directed the city to hold public hearings and at the same time slammed the city for its lack of public participation on the permit process.

The city has now begun public hearings on the three ocean spillways it operates. The three outlets dump about 28 million liters of sewage into the sea every day, according to reports from the city.

The only treatment this sewage receives is to be pressed through a 3 mm sieve to remove grit and solid pieces. It is then dumped into the sea about 1.5 km from the beach at Groenpunt, Kampsbaai and Houtbaai.

Zahid Badroodien, mayoral committee member for water and sanitation, launched a 60-day public sitting period after the city failed to inform the public that it had issued a permit for Hout Bay in 2019, a permit for Green Point and a permit for Green Point last December received for Kampsbaai in January. Overall, the permits allow a maximum of 56 million liters of sewage to be pumped into the sea daily.

The city has also applied for a permit to pump salt water out of the Groenpunt outlet in accordance with the possible development of a desalination plant.

Cape Town already applied for the permits in 2014, but it took years for the department to grant the first of the three permits after the relevant legislation was transferred from the Department of Water and Sanitation to the Department of Environmental Affairs.

In the meantime, the outfalls are operated in terms of general permission from the department.

Lack of input

After appeals about the granting of the permits, Creecy stated that the city failed to inform interested parties about it and that the metro board also did not make any public announcement about it.

It infringed on people’s right to appeal.

Appeals are supposed to be submitted within 30 days of the decision, or 60 days after a decision is announced, if the appellant has not been informed about it.

Creecy found that people were only made aware of the decision after the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) inquired about the granting of the exit permits in January.

Creecy found that Cape Town should have made the decision on the granting of the permits public so that interested parties could be informed of their right to appeal against it.

Another issue that was taken into account was the fact that the dumping of the sewage through the outfalls is “historical” and “continuous” and there is therefore no prejudice against the city in question.

The outfalls have been used for decades under various renewable license conditions.

Loss of trust

Many people who have attended the public hearings so far have been skeptical about the city’s public participation process.

Badroodien says the city meets more than just the minimum requirements and broadens the public hearings to also include five coastal sewage treatment plants that also dump sewage into the sea: Mitchells Plain, Llandudno, Oudekraal, Simonstad and Miller’s Point.

Byron Herbert, a former committee member of the Camps Bay and Clifton Ratepayers’ Association and member of Bay of Sewage, says this looks like an attempt to cloud the issues because sea discharge pipes – unlike sewage plants – do not treat the sewage before it is pumped out into the sea not.

Badroodien denied any ill intentions.

Jean Tresfon, a marine conservation photographer, whose aerial photographs of balls of sewage being pumped into the sea caused huge public outrage, told Badroodien that the previous mayoral committee member for water and sanitation had lost people’s trust and Badroodien and his team would have to work hard to recover it.

Tresfon says he was part of the public participation process in 2015, but neither he nor anyone he knows was informed that the permits had been granted. He says there were around 3,000 objections at the time, but “not one got a single answer”.

It also appears that Badroodien and Water and Sanitation Bulk Services Director Mike Killick did not read Creecy’s appeal decision carefully. None of them knew about the saltwater outfall forming part of the Green Point outfall permit application, or that Creecy had determined that one of the public hearings should be held in Camps Bay.

Badroodien and Killick took the criticism to heart.

According to Badroodien, a study on the viability of treating sewage before dumping it in the sea, or diverting it to other land-based treatment plants, will be made public by the end of the year.

Grounds for appeal

Some of the reasons given in the appeals against the discharge permits are that the sewage is dumped in a protected marine area; that it is a violation of the right to a healthy environment; that there is no evidence of a proper public participation process; and that the outcome is not in the interest of the whole community.

Badroodien says residents can comment or submit objections to the sea spill pipes on the city’s online platform. Notices about the public sessions are also placed in newspapers and affixed to certain buildings.

  • This post was originally posted by GroundUp and is used with permission.