COLUMN-Burst meters and strain

todays womanThere are some people and institutions in Barbados you are better off not fighting. In these days of standards and regulations, these entities still seem like colossuses, managing to evade attempts to rationalize their services and produce value for money for the customer.

I am sure that as we get to know each other more, my list of such people and institutions will reveal itself. It may even begin to today –– if you read with one eye squinted!

I went home last Tuesday, after my daughter’s dancing, all excited to take hubby on an impromptu date. I had told him something naughty as we waited for the children to complete their dancing session. We thought some alone time at karaoke or in an off-road rumshop was the way to spend the evening. Thank goodness for children!

Some people say having them means spending money; but when we went home to drop off the children, we were confronted by a mini-stream, with the water meter as the source.

We were back to reality much more quickly than those Barbadians who thought the end of July would bring them their income tax refund –– enough to pay their car insurance. Forget date night! Money was flowing in the street as the water.

While hon got to the man stuff outside, locating the leak, asking for hoe and shovel, I figured putting a call to the Barbados Water Authority’s (BWA) emergency line seemed like a logical thing. The man who answered the phone was quite calm.

He asked if the leak was coming from, before or after the meter. I told him it was closer to the house. The gentleman informed me that I needed a plumber, not the Water Authority. Pfffftttttttttttt . . . !

I explained that although it was on my side it was the galvanized mechanism that seemed to be leaking.

Mr Calm simply repeated the rule: anything after the meter is yours. Well, no fight there. If it is mine, it is mine.

We set about digging out the earth and rocks to free the pipes. Well, hon did that. Amazing human being he is!

Then we ran around to find parts for the repair. What we could not find was galvanized fittings.

The Barbados Water Authority is supposedly now back under the regulation of the Fair Trading Commission. I have a few questions for the commission.

I can go anywhere in this island up to about nine, or even ten o’clock, and find pipe glue, cleaner, plumbing tape and the basic fixtures for repairing a pipe. However, there are very few stores that still stock galvanized fittings. Why is the Water Authority allowed to use galvanized components in their mechanisms and then refuse to fix the broken parts past the meter on my side, when said fittings are not easy to access?

I noticed that prior to the burst in my pipe, the recent inclement weather had resulted in sporadic water pressure. The water pressure in St Philip is usually unpredictable at best. During bad weather, it can blow fixtures clean off.

I have had to change the house pipes to three-quarter-inch because half-inch cannot take the water pressure in St Philip.

Fair Trading Commission, the question is: why am I stuck fixing plumbing when the Barbados Water Authority does not seem to be bound to guarantee a reasonable flow of water that will not cause damage to my fittings?

How come when there is an obvious burst pipe, which may not be classified as an act of nature, but which is certainly not something I can avoid, that I have to be stuck with paying for the water wasted, but the Barbados Water Authority does not seem to be penalized for the large bursts that flow in streets all around Barbados for days, weeks and, in some cases, months before they are attended to?

Why does the Water Authority seem to be allowed to charge retroactively for water? And how do I as customer know that this retroactive charging has taken into account the bands established, so that I am not paying more as a result of the tardiness in billing?

I have dealt with the Fair Trading Commission before, and I am not very excited about the ability of the current mechanism to rein in the mighty, never wrong, always-what-I-say Barbados Water Authority. There is a culture that is a part of the Water Authority which will need the strictest regulation to overcome. That culture is not just in the way its commodity is distributed and costed, but also in the style of administration of the Water Authority.

When is the new office complex at The Pine to be completed? Is the project still within budget? Did we ever know why the Barbados Water Authority needed a multistorey complex for its offices? I figure the biggest percentage of staff is technical, and maybe they will work on the road?

Artist’S impression of the Barbados Water Authority’S new headquarters.
Artist’s impression of the Barbados Water Authority’S new headquarters.

Can we change the Water Authority by bringing it under the Fair Trading Commission? Is our collective customer action taken seriously by the BWA? Have the high bills associated with the new meters been rectified? There really are more questions than answers.

And with the other half of the Solid Waste Tax becoming due in about two weeks, I find myself being convinced the more things change, the more they remain exactly the same.

Big up the corner shop by the St Philip’s Parish Church that gave me some old-time “trust”. Plastic cards are no use when the water pipe bursts away at eight in the night –– just reminding you of that! You need a good name and a willing community.

Also thanks to the neighbour we affectionately call “Boyfriend”, because he takes care of all the ladies in our gap. Life with good friends and a willing community is livable in spite of the “big muguffy” entities we come into contact with from time to time.

Don’t you agree?

(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and a part-time lecturer in communication at the University of the West Indies. She is a social commentator and community worker.)


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