Springfield College students received a Rave Alert at 10:06 p.m. on Sept. 12 advising them to avoid drinking any tap water, and to use bottled water if possible. Earlier that evening, Springfield Mayor Dominic Sarno had declared a state of emergency in the city following a massive water main break.
It was yet another issue that students had to deal with during the start of the school year after a devastating heatwave beat down on campus during the first week of classes, and pouring rain earlier this week caused the first floor of the Living Center to flood and left other buildings with some water damage.
“It was surprising,” second-year student Mike Hyder said of the contaminated water warning. “There was a lot of confusion about what we could use and drink, but luckily I had a lot of bottles already.”
According to the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission, a break in the cross country water main off of St. James Avenue led to a significant loss of pressure and water loss. This interrupted the Commission’s distribution system to the city of Springfield, as well as the neighboring town of Ludlow.
The break is believed to have been caused by Monday’s severe thunderstorm.
The burst has been isolated and system pressure has been restored, but concern over contaminated water remains. As of presstime, the Commission was still working to maintain chlorine disinfection throughout the distribution system in order to kill any possible bacteria and viruses that may have accrued in the water supply.
At 7:41 a.m. on Wednesday, another Rave Alert went out to the Springfield College community, announcing that, because of the City of Springfield’s Water and Sewer advisory, classes would be held remotely for the day and that only essential personnel should report to campus. Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Subway and the Pride Place cafe in the Campus Union were closed, but the Cheney Dining Hall remained open.
Resident Assistants and workers in the Cheney Dining Hall handed out water bottles for students after 10,000 bottles were delivered to campus, not only for drinking, but also to be able to brush their teeth without potentially dangerous liquid.
Although the Commission said that it is safe for people to bathe, there is still hesitation from a lot of students about using on-campus showers, as many students have noticed a brownish color to the water in the sinks and showers.
“There were a lot of questions about whether or not it was safe to take a shower, but I didn’t want to use that water,” Hyder said. Some students have opted to go home instead.
The Commission announced on Wednesday the quality of the water would continue to be tested by officials. According to Water and Sewer Commission Executive Director Josh Schimmel, the boil water alert would be in effect until Thursday, pending water quality sample testing results — leaving Springfield College students without water – or answers. Springfield College president Mary-Beth Cooper updated the campus community on Wednesday and announced that classes would again be remote on Thursday. “We will provide an update tomorrow once we learn the testing results from the City,” Cooper said. “This timing will allow you to make the best decision for you as students, faculty, and staff.”
Some students – including sophomore Jake Polites – opted to go home rather than wait out the water emergency.
“My house has access to clean and safe water,” said Polites, “and I would rather drive back for the night than risk any contamination.”