Load shedding ‘cause’ of spill

Fish Hoek beach near the lighthouse where sewage spilled on Sunday. Picture: Evelyn Lyle

The latest sewage spill at Fish Hoek Beach was reported by a resident on Facebook on Sunday, but there was no official word from the City about it until two days later.

By Wednesday morning the City still had not closed the beach, despite the Fish Hoek Surf and Lifesaving Club having suspended all water-based activities for Nippers until further notice and the results of water tests gauging the severity of the spill still pending.

Maire Fisher, of Fish Hoek, posted on Facebook on Sunday, February 9 about the current spill.

She said her husband had seen raw sewage at the lighthouse on Fish Hoek Beach and had taken samples and asked the municipality and other local groups to have them tested.

According to a City statement, sent late on Tuesday, load shedding on Sunday caused a sewer-pump failure leading to a sewage spill into the lighthouse stormwater outlet.

The pump station’s generator had kicked in when the power went out, but the station tripped at the main control when the power came back on.

The fault was fixed on Monday and the City said it was likely the south easter had dispersed much of the spill but “near-shore currents from the wave action may have resulted in some longshore drift. As such, residents are asked to exercise caution when using this section of the beach until water-quality tests results are processed and confirmation is made that the effects of the spill have been reversed.”

Earlier this year, mayoral committee member for water and waste services Xanthea Limberg told the Echo there were 300 sewage spills a day across the metropole and they were happening more frequently.

In a brief statement on Tuesday, Fish Hoek Surf and Lifesaving Club management told the Echo it had called a halt to water activities for its Nippers because of suspected poor water quality and concern for the health and wellbeing of its members.

The chairman of the Fish Hoek Valley Residents’ and Ratepayers’ Association, Brian Youngblood, said sewage pollution at the “lighthouse” stormwater outfall had increased in frequency and severity in the past few years.

“For this particular time, we were told that load shedding tripped a pump that has now been re-set. However, this particular problem is ongoing,” he said.

The association sent questions to the Fish Hoek sub-council on Thursday January 23 for placement on their February agenda.

“We had sent the questions directly to the person in charge of sewage pumps for the City, on Thursday January 16, but there has been no response,” Mr Youngblood said.

The FHVRRA had been investigating the cause of the spills for a year, he said.

“We have established that the lighthouse stormwater system is polluted by litter from the station/taxi rank and Shoprite precincts, some fast food enterprises discharging fats into the system from time to time and small amounts of human waste from homeless people, as well as occasional leaks from taxi/station and beach ablution blocks.”

There were no leaks from the sewerage pipes, he said.

Mr Youngblood said the association had found that major sewage spills happened because of load shedding and the failure of the three pumps that feed Fish Hoek’s sewage to the Wildevoelvlei wastewater treatment plant.

All pumps are monitored by telemetry through a cellphone app, but it is also susceptible to load shedding and may not be monitored 24/7.

“We are not sure exactly how overflowing occurs, but we know that when Valyland overflows, the Silvermine estuary is polluted and when Shoprite overflows, the ‘lighthouse’ takes the load,” he said.

The FHVRRA’s efforts and meetings in this regard had been minuted and both the relevant officials and councillors copied, he said.

“On the Fishhoekratepayers.com website is a copy of a recent letter to the relevant official requesting a generator for Valyland and sirens to supplement telemetry,” he said.

The media have struggled to get the City to make public the results of regular tests it does on water bodies across the metropole. Some civic leaders who have had sight of these results in the past – at least the ones for rivers and vleis – described having to sign non-disclosure agreements to get them.

On Tuesday, Gregg Oelofse, the City’s manager for coastal management, said the City did not release individual results of water-quality tests as the status of coastal water quality was not determined by single results, but by using the Hazen Method of calculating 95th and 90th percentiles over a 365 day rolling period.

“This is the national standard. What the City is looking at providing, in future, is monthly updates on the water quality status as determined by this method,” he said.

He said the Ocean Water Quality Report was complete.

“The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has been appointed to prepare the summary report and is currently working on this. It is the City’s intention to make these reports public within the next two months, if all goes as planned,” he said.

Last year, Ms Limberg said (“City sewage disposal worries,”* Echo, July 25, 2019) that these results were expected in August 2019 after which they could be presented to the public.

Mr Oelofse said the reports held the results of all of the coastal sites where the City conducted coastal water quality tests over a 12-month period.

Those results, Mr Oelofse said, would give the public a much better understanding of coastal water quality over a period of time.

“Which is, ultimately, how data should be interpreted in order to determine trends/draw conclusions,” he said.

He said the City did not require people to sign non-disclosure agreements to get water-quality results, but the City did require a “terms of use agreement”.

We were unable to ascertain the difference between the two by the time of going to print.

The City has consistently blamed the spills o load shedding and the public’s misuse of the sewers (“Flushing concerns for city,” Echo, June 6, 2019, “Waste pumped into vlei,” Echo, February 8, 2018 and “Estuary flushed after sewage spill,” Echo, December 20, 2018)

Meanwhile ward councillor Aimee Kuhl said she had asked the sub-council for a complete report on the pump failure and the response to the failure. She said she had reported the spill to relevant departments after being alerted by members of the public.