By Lori Dresner, Managing Editor/News Editor

Boil order sign on campus water fountain - COURTESY OF LORI DRESNER/THE CURRENT
Boil order sign on campus water fountain – LORI DRESNER/THE CURRENT

A precautionary boil water advisory was issued on September 6 that impacted many municipalities and the University of Missouri-St. Louis community.

Most UMSL students, faculty, and staff initially learned of the advisory via email and text message from the UMSL Alert System at 12:36 p.m. The message stated, “A boil water advisory that includes the UMSL campus has been put in place by MO American Water. DO NOT DRINK THE WATER ON CAMPUS.”

A follow-up message issued at 1:13 p.m. indicated that the precautionary advisory was activated after a power outage caused water system pressures to drop in the area. Over 30 municipalities and some portions of unincorporated St. Louis County were affected, impacting 85,000 customers. Those in affected areas were instructed to bring their water to a rolling boil for three minutes before using it for drinking or cooking. Signage was placed on the doors of buildings and drinking fountains on UMSL’s campus to alert individuals of the warning.

The water advisory posed a predicament for the food venues around campus. According to Gary Prellwitz, General Manager of Sodexo at UMSL, water needed for cooking was boiled in the kitchen for three or more minutes while the advisory was in effect. He said that all Sodexo locations were able to remain open except Café TJ, as coffee and expresso drinks could not be made. Einstein’s Bagels remained open to serve bagels, baked items, and bottled beverages but stopped brewing coffee and making espresso drinks. In other dining locations, such as the Nosh, the fountain beverages and ice machines were turned off with signage placed over them.

Students who live on campus were also impacted. Jackie Warren, Residential Education Coordinator, said, “We sent out an email to all our residents before the campus alert came out,” and notifications were posted on Facebook and Twitter in addition to signage around the residential communities and drinking fountains. Jonathan Lidgus, Director of Residential Life and Housing, executed a standing agreement with Sodexo to supply bottled water to residents.

Forrest Van Ness, Chief of the UMSL Police Department and Director of Institutional Safety, said he first received word from Chancellor Thomas George that there was a problem with the water company. From there, he and the UMSL PD worked with University Communications to get information out to the UMSL community via the alert system.

Although the UMSL PD did not have any contacts on Missouri American Water’s notification list prior to the advisory, Van Ness said that they have since added some names to the company’s website to be notified of future emergencies. “It was good for us that it gave us an opportunity to reconnect with [Missouri] American Water, to expand that emergency contact list,” said Van Ness.

The boil water advisory was eventually lifted around 8:30 a.m. on September 7 after tests conducted by Missouri American Water showed that the water was not contaminated. The UMSL community was notified again via UMSL Alert with a message at 8:52 a.m. confirming the lift and verifying that water on campus was safe for drinking.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Missouri American Water said the power outage disrupted the company’s largest water treatment plant, which is located on Hog Hollow Road in Chesterfield. The company said that a drop in water pressure can create a situation where untreated groundwater can infiltrate water mains. An investigation into the cause of the power outage was still ongoing as of Wednesday.

In light of this incident, Van Ness stressed the importance that students, faculty, and staff keep their contact information up-to-date on MyView to receive notifications from the UMSL Alert System. He said, “We’ve got multiple people from different locations and platforms that can send the message out, but if they don’t have the proper information in it, then they won’t get it.” Students can also register their contact information on Missouri American Water’s website to be notified directly of emergencies. “If it’s a short inconvenience, that far outweighs the risk of gaining some kind of bacterial infection in the water,” said Van Ness.