Temperature swings caused water breaks

Prior to the start of the semester, Putnam, Seneca and Ontario residence halls were affected by two breaks in a water main on campus likely caused by dramatic temperature swings.

According to George Stooks, assistant vice president for facilities and planning, Geneseo Facilities successfully repaired the first of the Jan. 13 breaks the following day. The discovery of a second break, however, led to the department's decision to call in a private contractor to replace 80 feet of pipeline on Jan. 15.

"Our campus staff is very skilled and efficient," Stooks said. "For this particular break, we just brought in a private contractor because they have the equipment to attack the problem aggressively, but our staff here does a great job."

The campus receives water from the Lakeville water processing plant and owns part of a system that delivers water to both the village and campus. "[The break] was in no way the village's fault," Stooks continued. "A break in the village may or may not affect us. I am sure all of these breaks were weather-related."

"There were probably two causes to these breaks: Drastic fluctuations in temperature and the age of the line." Stooks said that when temperatures fluctuate, especially between drastically freezing and moderate as so often happens in the region, the ground essentially moves, creating a situation where underground water infrastructures are susceptible to breakage.

"Even brand new pipeline is vulnerable to breaking in single-digit temperatures," Stooks said. "Our water system is no better or worse than most others."

Although Dean of Residential Living Celia Easton had referred to the water infrastructure as "rotting away" in an e-mail to all students, Stooks said she was probably referencing the fact that some lines have reached their life expectancy.

According to Stooks, Facilities recently began an infrastructure study as part of a five-year capital plan.

"[That plan] was started six or seven months ago though, and is not related at all to these recent breaks," he said. "This is because I want to truly understand what we need to do first because we have so much underground infrastructure: water, gas, electric, fiber optics and data, steam lines, condensate lines, site lighting."

The 80 feet of pipe was successfully replaced and water is again flowing normally to all residence halls. Most students experienced no inconvenience as the problem was largely repaired before the majority of residents returned to campus.