La Soufrière Emergency Update (Barbados) – April 11, 2021. (PMO)

Two of Barbados’ utility companies have indicated that they are prepared to deal with the ash fall from the La Soufriere Volcano in St. Vincent.

Managing Director of the Barbados Light & Power (BL&P) Company, Roger Blackman, and General Manager of the Barbados Water Authority, Keithroy Halliday, made this known during the virtual press conference held this afternoon to give an update on the impact of the ash fall on Barbados.

“There’s been no major impact on the national electric grid at this time.  However, we are not resting on our laurels.  We continue to monitor systems closely. We are managing situations of reports as they come in. There are the standard routine calls that we respond to on a daily basis and those continue to come in, and of course ash can be highly conductive, especially when wet, and conditions are wet out there right now, and therefore can have some impact on operations. They can coat insulators, which can cause tracking or sparking,” Mr. Blackman disclosed.

He urged customers to contact the BL&P at emergency number 626-9000, if they see any sparking wires.

The Managing Director noted that BL&P’s installation levels were designed for higher voltages, both at the high voltage and low voltage levels, so there was a level of protection or mitigation already built into the design. 

He pointed out that most of its substations are indoor designs, which is somewhat unique in the Caribbean, but was done that way for resilience and to provide a level of protection.

Mr. Blackman also advised the public not to spray water on their meters or service connections.  “It’s more muscle power that should be used. Use your broom to brush ash away from your meters.…  You shouldn’t be spraying water on meters or service connections.”

He further cautioned: “If you see wires down. Of course, don’t touch them. Stay clear; call us and … pay attention to legitimate news sources … or social media channels, we have been seeing some fake news going around.”

(Stock Photo)

Meanwhile, Mr. Halliday sought to allay any fears of there being water pollution from the ash. “We have a closed network distribution system. What that means is that our system is principally secured or sealed, our reservoirs are sealed. And because we rely principally on water abstraction from the ground, whether we treat it through a well pumping system, or through a desalination system, that water is secured up to the processing of our reservoirs into a distribution system. So, I need everyone to understand you need not fear about the water quality. You need not fear about contamination. It is not vulnerable to ash fall; it is well secured,” he explained.

In light of the misinformation that was being circulated on social media, the General Manager further sought to reassure Barbadians that the water system was safe. 

“They have also been references to cave systems being vulnerable … or being able to produce contaminants into our system.  We in fact only have one such cave system, which feeds our Bowmanston system, and there is already a procedure and protocol whenever we have heavy rainfall, or whenever we have run offs in the way in which we treat it…. Bowmanston produces about four per cent of our water island wide, so, we still have most of the system well intact, well secured from any possible contamination.”

He continued: “I wanted to stress that, in terms of the ash on the ground. The way in which our system works, we have a very natural filtering system that works very well for Barbados. The ground cover, or the soil cover, actually retards any pollutants, … from reaching our aquifer, and the filtration system on its own works very, very well. So again, in that respect, we are not fearful we want to assure Barbadians we have gone through this before, we know what to expect.”

Mr. Halliday added that the Barbados Water Authority does “really serious water” quality tests. “While WHO (World Health Organization) asks us to do about 50, we do up to 200 such quality tests on average a month.  So at all times, we are making sure that our water quality is what it should be,” he disclosed.

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