Another Hot Water Shortage in Reykjanes a Possibility

Reykjanes peninsula eruptions

After a volcanic eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula on February 8 disrupted the hot water supply in Suðurnes, a town hall meeting was held to discuss the risk posed by future eruptions to the hot water supply. A representative from HS Orka stated that although the primary hot water conduit to Suðurnes had been fortified, the possibility of another hot water shortage could not be discounted.

Town hall meeting in Reykjanesbær

Following a volcanic eruption that began on the Reykjanes peninsula on the morning of February 8, lava flowed over and breached the Njarðvíkur conduit, a pipeline that transports hot water from the Svartsengi geothermal power plant to the towns in Suðurnes: Vogar, Reykjanesbær, Garður, Sandgerði, and Grindavík.

Shortly after noon that same day, the utility company HS Veitur reported a hot-water outage in the upper areas of the Reykjanesbær municipality and the towns of Sandgerði and Garður. The rest of Suðurnes soon followed. It took five days for the authorities to restore hot water.

Given that another eruption seems to be imminent, the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management (DCPEM) held a town hall meeting at the Stapi conference hall in Reykjanesbær last night. The meeting was attended by representatives of the DCPEM, the Icelandic Meteorological Office, and the utility companies HS Orka and HS Veitur, alongside the Minister of Justice, Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir.

Another hot water shortage a possibility

According to Kristinn Harðarson, Executive Vice President of Operations at HS Orka, the possibility of another hot water shortage in the Suðurnes region cannot be discounted if an eruption occurs again on the Reykjanes Peninsula, Mbl.is reports.

Kristinn was asked whether there was still a possibility that residents in the Suðurnes region would once again be without hot water if lava flowed over the Grindavík road again. He answered affirmatively but pointed out that a long section of the Njarðvík pipeline, where lava is most likely to flow over, had been fortified. “This is a method that was tested at Fagradalsfjall. We are hopeful that this could work. Of course, we are in somewhat uncharted territories,” Kristinn observed.

“We are, at least, in a much better position, although it is never possible to rule anything out,” Kristinn continued. “If an eruption occurs somewhere else and lava flows over that section of the pipeline that is unprotected, there could be a disruption in delivery. But, in that case, we are prepared to respond, with materials on hand, and will do everything possible to ensure that any interruption is as short as possible.”

According to calculations by the Icelandic Meteorological Office, about 8.5 to 9 million cubic metres of magma have accumulated under Svartsengi. In previous eruptions on the Reykjanes Peninsula, eruptions have occurred when the volume of magma reached 8 to 13 million cubic metres. The lead-up to an eruption can be very short, according to geologists.

As noted by RÚV, it was also revealed during the town hall meeting that backup power has been secured for the distribution system, alternative water sources have been secured, and drilling for hot water in low-temperature areas has begun.

Preemptive Lava Barriers Proposed in Grindavík Town Hall

Proposals to erect protective lava barriers on the Reykjanes peninsula were introduced at a town hall meeting in Grindavík yesterday. A geophysicist with the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management expressed scepticism that the barriers would be situated on the “right side” of a possible eruption.

A familiar pattern

Despite the Icelandic MET Office reporting that no uplift had occurred over the past three to four days in the Svartsengi area on the Reykjanes peninsula, the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management held a town hall meeting in Grindavík yesterday.

As of late May, the land around Svartsengi had risen almost five centimetres – likely owing to magma intrusion 4-5km below the surface – and an earthquake swarm had been ongoing, despite no signs of volcanic unrest. These geological events are reminiscent of similar disturbances in the area before the eruption near Fagradalsfjall in 2021. While the Fagradalsfjall eruption did not threaten infrastructure in the area, the current magma intrusion is located underneath a geothermal power plant, and an uncertainty phase is still in effect in the area.

Proposals on protective lava barriers introduced

In addition to professors in geology, the town hall meeting in Grindavík was also attended by police officers and search-and-rescue workers on the Reykjanes peninsula, along with representatives from the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, from neighbouring municipalities, and from companies that operate important infrastructure in the area.

There were also a few engineers present, among them Ari Guðmundsson from Verkís, who introduced the proposals of a task force, established in March of last year, entrusted with protecting important infrastructure in the event of an eruption.

Although the task force’s proposals will not be made available to the media prior to review by public administrators, Ari Guðmundsson told RÚV that, among other things, the task force had proposed the erection of preemptive protective barriers.

“That’s what we’ve proposed: the partial erection of protective lava barriers. But these proposals are subject to further review, in regard to environmental impact, e.g., and in regard to just how complete these barriers will be.”

Commenting on this proposal, Björn Oddsson, a geophysicist with the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, offered the following caveat: “Given that we have an open area with long fissures, it’s uncertain whether a protective barrier that’s erected prior to an eruption will be situated on the right side of the eruption – or the wrong side.”

“The proposals will be reviewed by the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management,” Ari Explained, “and they’ll decide on the next steps. We also proposed a review of a more extensive area on Reykjanes, stretching as far as Bláfjöll and Hengill, but that’s a much more extensive project.”

“It’s the beginning of a much more comprehensive project that must be undertaken,” Björn agreed.

A “temporary hiatus”

Despite no signs of volcanic unrest, Þorvaldur Þórðarson, professor of geology and volcanology at the University of Iceland, stated that the relative stillness on the peninsula over the past few days should be taken as a “temporary hiatus” as opposed to a sign that geological activity had ceased.

“Obviously, magma is no longer intruding at the former depth, and so there’s no uplift, which means that the immediate threat of an eruption has decreased; there won’t be an eruption any time soon,” Þorvaldur stated.

“Not this summer?” RÚV reporter Hólmfríður Dagný Friðjónsdóttir inquired.

“I wouldn’t think so. I certainly don’t hope so.”