Valparaiso University students, faculty, staff and residents of the surrounding community were affected after the discovery of a water main break on Oct. 19. As a result, a boil water advisory was issued for a 48 hour period. During this time, the water could be used, but had to be boiled before consumption.

The break was located near Wehrenberg Hall by the university’s grounds crew, then was reported to Facilities Management (FM), who then informed the Valparaiso University Police Department (VUPD). Utilizing a campus-wide email alert, VUPD warned of the boil water advisory.

“We [FM] called in a contractor to do the digging. We had to locate the other utilities around it that could be hit in the dig process. So we had to locate all those, whether they be electrical or telecommunications or any other utilities, and make sure we didn’t hit those in the dig,” said Jason Kutch, executive director of facilities for FM.

Although the boil advisory was put in place for the entire campus community, Wehrenberg Hall was the only building to lose water access entirely, due to its proximity to the break. Water flow to restrooms, sinks and water fountains on the rest of the campus remained uninterrupted.

“It was going to take several hours to do and they [FM] had to shut the water off in Wehrenberg and we had to go to a boil advisory for the community because of the fact that the rupture occurred and the system was compromised,” said Dean of Students Ryan Blevins.

Following the water main break, Residential Life began drafting a plan of action that would give Wehrenberg residents access to running water and usable restrooms. The initial solution was to reroute students to the Harre Union temporarily and eventually provide each student with access to Brandt Hall.

Within the same day the break was discovered, FM was able to find a third party contractor to repair the water main. Ultimately, water flow was restored in Wehrenberg within the same day.

Similarly to VUPD, Student Life sent a campus-wide email with more details regarding water boiling procedures. Additionally, situational questions and answers were addressed. The following situations were commented on: handwashing, bathroom use and washing dishes.

“There were a lot of questions that came out when VUPD sent out the advisory notice about what does this mean exactly,” Blevins said. “We sent out notice to both faculty, staff and students that you shouldn’t be using water fountains or anything of that nature.”

Another public space that the boil advisory highly impacted was dining services. More specifically, it altered the food served and product used.

“Dining services went to a paper product approach at Founders for the next 36 hours or so because they had to shut down their dish washing system just to be on the safe side,” Blevins said. “They had to shift their menu around a little bit because of that type of thing as well, they were taking care of that piece. Signage went up, and things of that nature, advising people of the boil advisory and lots of word of mouth when these things occur.”

These precautions were taken because a water main break gives the potential for contaminants to enter the system. Dirt and bacteria were among more of the common concerns for contaminants, however, multiple tests for numerous types of impurities were conducted. The tests were taken at different times and different locations around campus, then sent to an off-site testing facility to ensure safety for consumption.

“So we certainly want to make sure that no one is going to drink any of that and we want to make sure that it didn’t enter there. So after we’re done with a repair, we flush the system, then we do a test and do another test 24 hours after that, thus the reason for the 48 hour delay,” Kutch said. “We wanted to make sure we were safe from anyone consuming it if the possibility did happen where any contaminants from the soil did enter that water stream.”

No signs of deliberate damage were found. It was determined that the water main broke on account of its age and deterioration over time.

“It’s pretty common that that happens, it happens in the city,” Kutch said. “It’s happened before here on campus and it can happen anywhere. It’s a metal pipe that’s in the ground that has groundwater all around it and it corrodes and we need to repair it when that happens.”

Within the city, water main breaks have occurred numerous times. Although some instances have been the result of ongoing construction, a portion of the breaks were an outcome of the conditions each water main has endured, affected by factors such as weather shifts and the amount of groundwater surrounding the mains.

“In Valparaiso, Ind., the city itself, over the last six months, there’s been three or four water main ruptures because of construction,” Blevins said. “The mains are huge things and they’ve been buried underneath there for decades and sometimes they will just break down and that type of thing. I don’t think it’s anything to the infrastructure of the campus or anything of that nature. It was just one of those things that unfortunately happens every now and then.”

Those that believe they consumed water during the boil advisory should remain attentive as there was still a potential for the water to be contaminated. Students should reach out to the Student Health Center with any concerns.

“If a student did accidentally consume some water during the boil advisory period of time, they should probably monitor their symptoms,” Blevins said. “Students were never really at significant risk because there was a potential for [exposure to contaminants], that’s why we went with the boil advisory.”

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