Infrastructure collapse causes 14-day Strand sewage spill into the ocean
A sewer collapse in Strand, first reported more than a month ago, has caused sewage to flow into the ocean for two weeks, prompting concern for the health and safety of residents, beach users and the environment.
An ongoing sewage spill into the ocean and streets of Strand, Cape Town, for at least consecutive 14 days, has caused frustration and anger among residents, beachgoers and surfers in the area, who have been exposed to sewage spills from the debilitated and aged Trappies sewer pipeline for years.
The most recent spill was caused by an alarming sewer collapse, which resulted in a sinkhole, in Joubert Street, Strand. The collapse was first reported on 7 August 2023, as sewage overflowed into a stormwater drain and then into the ocean, prompting concern for the health and safety of residents and beach users.
Over the weekend, this sewage overflow was exacerbated by heavy rain.
Whenever the Trappies sewer pipeline collapses, there are recurring pipe bursts over an extended area. Yet another sewage spill broke out on 7 September, with significant overflow straight from the stormwater drain into the Lourens River – a protected natural environment.
The pollution at Strand Beach and in the Lourens River is also affecting the health and safety of the natural environment in Strand .
Residents confront the city
During a community meeting on 6 September 2023, residents tackled the City of Cape Town (CoCT) head-on, not only with their knowledge of the Trappies system and its challenges, but also with personal accounts of how they had been suffering from these recurring incidents and how the city had been failing the community, to the detriment of their health and the health of the natural environment.
The meeting – led by the city’s Mayoral Committee Member for Water and Sanitation, Zahid Badroodien – was set up to discuss the city’s short-, medium- and long-term interventions and investment in the rehabilitation of the Trappies sewer pipeline and the Gordon’s Bay Sewer Rising Main.
Richard Barry is perhaps one of the most unfortunate individuals in Strand at the moment as he lives on Joubert Street with the massive sinkhole situated right in front of his house and driveway. Barry said he and his family had been inconvenienced for weeks since the major collapse on 7 August, which occurred after particularly heavy rain.
“Immediately we were all stranded in our home. Fortunately, we had enough time to get one vehicle out, which we now park in the street, and have to wear plastic packets on our feet to try and reach the car whenever we leave the house. It’s not convenient at all to have that stench, and of course, the other inconvenience is the 24-hour pumping of the diesel pumps that are running. My light fittings are even starting to rattle,” Barry said.
Resident Tara Morries added: “We had a sewage spill at our house a couple of weeks back and it took more than 24 hours to resolve the problem … There were three houses in a row that were completely flooded with sewage around their house. We had three pumps running which we borrowed from family and friends to try and alleviate some of the sewage, putting some of the sewage into the rainwater system because we had no other choice.”
Morries said only after they had phoned numerous times to complain and had visited the CoCT centre to lodge a complaint did the council arrive to help clean up the spillage at their house, but she said the council did not sanitise the properties.
Morries said that everyone in their house had stomach problems after this incident and wondered what crisis management and sanitation processes CoCT would implement to protect the health and safety of residents as these collapses were set to continue for at least the next six months.
Representatives from the CoCT’s directorates for Spatial Planning and Environment, Urban Mobility as well as Health and Safety were not present at the meeting to address the many concerns raised by residents.
This was the first formal meeting between CoCT and the Strand community since Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis visited Strand Beach in January 2023, when sewage spillages into the ocean escalated, forcing the closure of several beaches over the festive season.
On Friday, 8 September, Strand Beach was closed to all water users as it was unsafe for recreational activity as a result of poor water quality. Red signage was erected to warn of poor water quality owing to the high discharge of sewage.
Another concern among the community is the inadequate warnings to beachgoers and residents about health hazards resulting from these sewage incidents. Previously, warning signs were erected, but these were frequently either washed away owing to heavy rain and winds or were stolen soon after being erected, according to residents.
The CoCT recently erected warning signs on permanent poles, where the risk of loss due to vandalism, theft or weather impact would be reduced.
Many residents believe the massive sinkhole in Joubert Street and its resulting environmental and health effects would not have become so severe had the CoCT responded immediately to reports on 7 August, when it first began forming.
According to residents, it took three weeks for action to be taken on the sinkhole; however, COCT said emergency repairs began on the collapsed sewer in Joubert Street on Wednesday, 23 August, after a “short delay due to operational constraints”.
Joubert Street resident Johan Swart said at the meeting: “The contractor is on site now, but there have been frequent sewer overflows for the last 14 days and much worse on days when it rains. An estimate of between five to 20 million litres of sewage has been spilled on to the beach and into the ocean over the two weeks.”
The CoCT’s Badroodien said that as a contingency measure, over-pumping had begun to help manage the flow of sewage and was continuing until the emergency repairs were completed.
The city’s Water and Sanitation Directorate has also appointed an emergency contractor to conduct point repairs on the Trappies sewer pipeline, whenever sewer collapses are experienced.
“The city engaged the contractors on site to routinely disinfect the affected area and officials are conducting daily monitoring to ensure that this is done. Persons should avoid contact with water at the construction site and, as per usual, ensure that good hygiene practices such as regular handwashing, especially before cooking and eating, are maintained,” Badroodien said.
To illustrate the frequency of these collapses, Swart said he had observed 28 sinkholes over five years on about 2,000m of the Trappies sewer pipeline in Strand:
- Two sinkholes in 2019;
- Two sinkholes in 2020;
- Three sinkholes in 2021;
- Ten sinkholes in 2022;
- Eleven sinkholes in 2023; and counting.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Western Cape’s Strand residents and surfers up in arms over sewage flowing into streets and ocean
Lifelong surfer, paddler and lifesaver at Strand Beach, Jamii Hamlin, said integrated contingency plans were not activated for downstream pollution impacts on public spaces and environmental malpractice. In addition, there were no health warnings to the public, be they beachgoers or water users such as the Strand Surf Lifesaving Club
“Despite several engagements and requests for the city to formally warn the public, nothing was forthcoming,” Hamlin said.
Hamlin said the overview presented by the CoCT at the meeting highlighted the poor response, environmental lapses and health and safety concerns.
“It’s fair to say that despite CoCT’s best effort to present their upgrade plan, they weren’t prepared for the Q&A session that revealed there was a great need to address and remedy. Mr Badroodien has undertaken to formally reply to these questions within 10 days and circulate this via email according to the attendance register.”
Residents also raised major concerns about design flaws in the pending upgrade, which they said would likely lead to reduced capacity or collapse in future, compounding the repair of blockages.
The city committed to improving communication with residents, particularly in reviewing response times to service requests when they were first logged. It will send weekly updates on the progress of repairs in the area.
“We welcome the robust engagement we had at the meeting. It is key because it brings the city and the community together to build a relationship that focuses on improving services in the area,” Bardroodien said.
R79m Trappies sewer pipeline upgrade and rehabilitation
Questions were sent to the city early on Thursday and a response was received on Friday night, A media statement on the matter was released shortly afterwards, announcing a long-overdue rehabilitation programme for the Trappies sewer pipeline, valued at a total of R79-million.
In the statement, the city said that Trappies has been experiencing critical structural failures, including frequent collapses that outpace repair efforts, which has a consequential impact on the health of the Lourens River and a section of the coastline.
“Despite a 2015 assessment indicating satisfactory condition and low collapse risk, the pipeline’s deterioration has accelerated beyond expectations. Initial plans to upgrade the existing line were deemed infeasible due to the pipeline’s complicated route. As a remedial measure, a new pipeline is planned to divert peak flows from the Gordon’s Bay basin, with construction set to begin in April 2024,” Badroodien said.
The city has invested R22-million in the rehabilitation of a 3.1km section of the Trappies sewer between Nazli Street and Hammond Street. Upcoming rehabilitation efforts for the Trappies sewer pipeline also include implementing trenchless technology options, as has been implemented for the Cape Flats Bulk Sewer.
For the 2023/24 fiscal year, a budget of R57-million has been allocated and a procurement tender process for a Cured in Place Pipe Lining has been fast-tracked. Rehabilitation work is set to begin in April 2024.
Badroodien said the Gordon’s Bay Sewer Rising Main project was also strategically designed to alleviate the limitations of the existing Gordon’s Bay Wastewater Treatment Works by redirecting future wastewater flows to the Macassar Wastewater Treatment Works and relieving pressure on Trappies.
With an estimated construction budget of R240-million, this project was in the procurement stage, Badroodien said.
“These investments will go a long way in avoiding sewer collapses and the sewage overflow into the coastline,” Badroodien said. DM