Thousands to flock to Cape Town beaches amid growing concerns over sewage spills

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Bathers get some sun at the beach.
Bathers get some sun at the beach.
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  • Thousands are expected to flock to Cape Town's beaches this weekend, but there are mounting concerns over the impact load shedding has on sewer infrastructure. 
  • The City of Cape Town announced the closure of another beach due to an electrical failure at the sewage pump station due to load shedding.
  • The closures highlighted severe challenges the city has encountered due to the continued high stages of load shedding on its water and sanitation infrastructure. 

As thousands of Capetonians are expected to flock to various beaches this long Christmas weekend, concerns are mounting over the impact load shedding has had on the sewer infrastructure resulting in several beach closures.

On Thursday, the city announced the closure of a third beach just in two weeks. Bakoven Beach is closed to the public until further notice.

The city said the closure was due to an electrical failure at the Beta sewer pump station due to ongoing load shedding.

Acting Mayor Eddie Andrews said the City experienced daily challenges with inappropriate objects blocking the sewer network. 

He said:

The situation is compounded by load shedding, particularly the sustained higher levels that we have experienced. The impact is quite visible, particularly as it relates to our coastal areas at a time when the beach is a very popular destination. I think we need to accept that pump station faults can - and will - occur, given the ongoing load shedding.

Andrews said the city was working hard to solve the issue. Two weeks ago, it announced temporary closures of Muizenberg and Fish Hoek beaches.

READ | Heading to Durban for holiday? High E. coli levels at beaches could leave you seriously ill

The City's sewer pump stations need electricity to function effectively and transport sewage to wastewater treatment plants where it can be treated, Andrews explained. 

However, with higher, prolonged stages of load shedding, sewage spills and overflows are to be expected, despite the contingency measures that are in place.

"When there is a fault at a pump station, the city tries to fix it in the shortest time possible to stop the overflow. In the event that a beach is affected, a host of city departments are activated to investigate and respond to the incident, including determining the cause and extent of the impact and what remedial measures are required," Andrews said. 

Alex Lansdowne, the chairperson of the mayoral advisory committee on water quality in wetlands and waterways, said load shedding was causing havoc on sewage reticulation infrastructure in Cape Town. 

"Pump stations are failing because they are simply not designed to have intermittent power supply.

"The electricity disruptions cause pumps to fail, which results in sewage overflows. Cape Town pump stations have been fitted with backup generators, but this means that there is added logistical pressure to manage the infrastructure on a daily basis," he said. 

Lansdowne added that increased sewage spills were another example of how load shedding damaged the city's economy and international reputation.

"Our beaches and waterways are internationally renowned, and we are at the height of a bumper tourist season. It is painful to see this sewage overflowing into our environment, which people should be using," he said. 

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