Pump stations set for upgrade to boost protection from load shedding

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Caroline Marx recently shared this photo of the City of Cape Town busy with further testing of the sediments in the Milnerton Lagoon last week. This is in order to make sound evidence-based decisions around possible future dredging.
Caroline Marx recently shared this photo of the City of Cape Town busy with further testing of the sediments in the Milnerton Lagoon last week. This is in order to make sound evidence-based decisions around possible future dredging.

As sewage leaks become the norm at Small Bay Beach in Bloubergstrand and the Milnerton Lagoon, the City of Cape Town says they will now upgrade pump stations and boost protection from load shedding and illegal dumping into the sewer system.

This after the City received a massive backlash from environmental activists, residents and other organisations recently regarding their alleged “excuse”, blaming the sewage leaks on loadshedding.

The City says big capital budget increases for sewer pump stations are planned under the Mayoral Priority Programme for water and sanitation – from R70 million in 2022, ramping up to R400 million in 2024, and R500 million in 2025.

Major upgrades

By June 2023, the City will have installed permanent generators at 110 priority sewer pump stations requiring generation capacity, with around 30 more earmarked for installation. All 26 wastewater treatment plants already have permanent generators. Cape Town has further installed early-warning telemetric alarm systems at all 487 sewer pump stations to help detect faults.

As part of rapidly scaled-up budgets, over R100 million annually will go to generators and electrical maintenance to protect against load shedding; screens to protect against foreign items in sewers; and security measures to combat ongoing theft and vandalising of critical infrastructure, the City promises.

Major upgrades and refurbishments to priority pump stations across the city account for the remainder of planned annual budgets, set to exceed R400 million by 2024.

“While we aim to end loadshedding over time in Cape Town, we are investing now to protect our critical infrastructure from the impact of sustained blackouts. Cape Town’s sewer infrastructure is under pressure from rapid urbanisation and is in need of upgrading. One of our first actions in office was to quadruple the city’s proactive sewer pipe replacement target, from 25 km to 100 km annually. Now thanks to an ongoing city-wide audit of the state of sewer pump stations, we are ready to massively ramp up budgets for upgrades. This includes protection from loadshedding, sewer misuse, theft and vandalism,” Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis says in a recent statement.

He explains that the City is stepping up both its pump station upgrade programme and sewerage spill responsiveness.

“Interventions include more specialised vehicles, hiring additional personnel, and proactive clearing of the sewer system,” said Councillor Siseko Mbandezi, acting Mayco member for water and sanitation.

In need of solutions

However, one resident who wishes to remain anonymous says if the City is not going to come up with a fast solution, all Capetonian’s health is at risk.

One social media post expressed outrage last week after a resident took a swim in Big Bay in water that is allegedly contaminated.

The post reads as follows: “I am absolutely certain that there must be dozens if not hundreds of water users exposed to this today. Let me be absolutely clear that if I become ill, I will be suing the City and I am now investigating the mechanism for a class action suit as clearly our protestations are not being heard.

“I would also like to point out that I raised related issues with the local councillor without response and was invited by Alex Lansdowne to share my concerns. I did this a week ago and guess what? No response or even acknowledgement.”

However, the City says besides resilience investments in pump station infrastructure, the City is improving operations by:

  • Expanding operational teams responding to pump station failures and conducting manual switching over to generators.
  • Procuring more specialised equipment to enhance sewer spill responsiveness, including mobile pumps and trucks with jetting and vacuum capacity to clear spills.
  • Proactively procuring spares annually to shorten repair turnaround times.
  • Cutting procurement red tape through a new “framework” tender in 2023-’24 that will allow for accelerated expenditure.

Impact on infrastructure

According to the City, loadshedding has a major impact on infrastructure. Due to the flat terrain in most of the metro, 70% of Cape Town’s sewer reticulation network relies on sewer pump stations.

“There is a high risk of these pump stations backing up and spilling if loadshedding is longer than two hours, as pump stations are generally not designed with large sumps to ‘store’ sewage during a power outage. While the City has made significant investments in backup generator capacity, this cannot be a final solution given the costs and high-energy demand of our facilities.

“Generators also do not prevent disruptions entirely due to manual switching between supply systems. With sustained high stages of load-shedding, the switching can cause faults and often requires heavy manpower. Loadshedding may also impact early-warning alarm systems, preventing operational teams from receiving fault alerts timeously. Each pump station comes with its own set of specific engineering challenges that need to be evaluated and converted to a detailed solution design. For example, there is insufficient space for on-site generators in some cases, requiring alternative solutions,” the City says.

The City says the operating cost of generators is also extremely high – estimated to be R150 000 monthly per pump station. This increases for energy-intensive wastewater works, with diesel costs to run the Zandvliet plant for just 48 hours exceeding R1 million.

Ending load shedding

The City says in a recent statement that Cape Town aims to provide at least four stages of load shedding protection progressively over the next three years under the Mayoral Priority Programme to end loadshedding over time.

This is set to be achieved through various means, including:

  • Buying power on the open market, with the second phase of its major IPP procurement due to be announced soon.
  • Paying businesses and residents to sell power back to the City.
  • Incentives for voluntary energy savings under a new Power Heroes programme, and
  • Municipal generation projects such as Steenbras Hydro power, solar PV, and gas turbines.
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