Cape Town sees 10 beach closures in two months during bumper holiday season
Llandudno Beach is the latest stretch of the Cape Town coast to close due to issues with sewage infrastructure. Sewage spills around local beaches have been a recurring problem this holiday season, resulting in closures over December 2022 and January 2023.
The summer holiday period in Cape Town has seen a series of beach closures due to sewage spills and overflows. The closure of Llandudno Beach on Monday, 9 January, marked the tenth such incident along the Cape coast in the past two months.
Llandudno Beach was closed due to an overflow from a sewer pump station, according to the City of Cape Town. The overflow occurred when a power surge caused by rolling blackouts damaged an ultrasonic-level sensor, used to measure the storage levels at the pump station.
All beach closures over the holiday season appear to have been caused by one of two factors: equipment failure at sewage pump stations caused by rolling blackouts, or blockages and damage to pump station infrastructure caused by the dumping of objects into the sewer system.
“The city temporarily closed some beaches, sections of beaches and tidal pools during the festive season as a public health precaution after sewage reached the shoreline,” said Eddie Andrews, Cape Town deputy mayor and mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment
“When we need to close a beach due to water quality concerns, we install signage to inform the public accordingly. In these instances, City Health takes water samples on a daily basis for water quality testing and only opens a beach once the water quality levels are within the minimum requirement for recreational activities as determined by the National Water Quality Guidelines.”
The longest closure was at Bakoven Beach between 22 and 30 December 2022. Other areas that saw closures include Fish Hoek Beach, Muizenberg Beach, Strand Beach, Gordon’s Bay Beach, Kalk Bay Beach and Small Bay.
Impact on coastal communities
“People then move down [the beach] because there were certain places which were still open, and certain places were closed,” said Mathea Eichel, owner of Bayside Restaurant on Fish Hoek Beach, about the recent closures.
“[Bayside Restaurant] did lose the morning trade, like the coffee drinkers, people coming for breakfast after the swim. We did lose those people.”
The closures were upsetting for those tourists who came to enjoy the beach, according to Eichel. However, people were quick to return to the affected areas once they were reopened.
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“This beach is the only beach that is left as a family beach, so there’s a lot of smaller babies, children, swimming here,” she said. “[People] feel safe when they come here.”
Grant Edwards, chairman of the Fish Hoek Surf Lifesaving Club and a resident of Muizenberg, told Maverick Citizen that the sewage spillages in Fish Hoek were minor compared to those that affected Muizenberg Beach.
“From a life-saving perspective, we did continue to do our duties, so the duties were not negatively affected by [the Fish Hoek spillages],” he said.
The club has not encountered any instances of illness among its members or members of the public that could be attributed to exposure to sewage, according to Grant.
Speaking on the closure at Muizenberg Beach, he said, “It’s not created large public distress, and I think, unfortunately, we as a community have gotten used to and just deal with these sorts of issues.”
Nelson Da Silva, owner of Majestic Café in Muizenberg, told Maverick Citizen that rolling blackouts and the beach closure have been a setback for his businesses over the festive season.
“Muizenberg beach was closed… [people] blame load shedding but it’s a knock-on effect, so that obviously, people don’t come to swim,” he said.
Maverick Citizen asked the City of Cape Town about the impact of beach closures on tourist activity and coastal businesses. According to Andrews, “The public continued to visit and enjoy our coastline, be it for the beaches, as advised, or other recreational activities. A few beaches were affected by sewer spills for short periods of time, and where possible, beachgoers continued to use the sections of beaches that were open.”
The city has not received any reports of illness as a result of swimming in areas affected by sewage spills, he said.
Strengthening sewage infrastructure
Higher and prolonged stages of rolling blackouts can result in sewer overflows and spills, as the outages impact pump stations despite the contingency measures in place, according to Andrews.
“Overflows happen because of incidents such as pumps tripping or components of pumps and equipment being damaged because of the knock-on effect of frequent load shedding that reduces the lifespan of equipment,” he said.
The city’s plan to address the increased frequency of sewer pump failures due to rolling blackouts is to install generators or UPS (uninterruptible power supply) devices at all pump stations.
“Currently, as a means to mitigate the impact of load shedding, larger priority sewer pump stations are fitted with permanent generators as a measure to increase the resilience of sanitation supply systems,” said Andrews.
“Maintenance staff are on standby and will use contingency measures such as mobile pumps and trucks to reduce or eliminate overflows.”
He added that Cape Town residents could assist water and sanitation services during prolonged rolling blackouts by using less water, only flushing toilets when necessary, keeping solid waste out of drains and reporting sewer blockages and overflows so they could be cleared in a reasonable timeframe.
“We plead with the public not to dump objects in our sewer and stormwater systems as these cause blockages and overflows, causing sewage to end up in our coastal waters and recreational areas,” he said. DM/MC