Campus / News / September 23, 2009

Benign water mucks up supply

Residents of the Galesburg community and Knox College received a shock two weeks ago when they discovered that the water coming from the faucets in their homes and their dorms was brown. This water was the result of rust particles that filtered into the water supply after a leak in a Galesburg water line.

“This has happened many times before and the problem has been resolved,” Richard Nelson, the Water Superintendent of the Galesburg Water Division, said. Nelson reported that the brown water was caused when a leak in a 12-inch water main at the west end of Galesburg progressed to the point where an additional water pump needed to be turned on at the main pumping station in Oquawka, Illinois.

When the additional water pump was activated, solids that are naturally present in the water supply, such as rust, sand, and gravel, were loosened by the pressure change. The brown water appeared when small amounts of the loosened rust made it past the water filters. “The trick to stopping the brown water is to catch it at the filters, but the transmission main is 32 miles long, so it is hard to catch the brown water at just the right time,” Nelson said.

“The water was not harmful in any way. The city didn’t order any kind of boil order; that’s the first thing we checked,” said Scott Maust, Director of Facilities Services at Knox, who stayed in contact with the Galesburg City Hall and the Water Division throughout the rusty water incident. “Galesburg has been really good about keeping the college informed about city problems and if there ever is an issue with the safety of the water, the city would issue a boil order and we would get that notification out to the campus immediately,” Maust said. If the water had presented a health risk, Maust said that the campus would have provided the students with bottled water.

Homes and businesses throughout Galesburg, along with dorms and facilities throughout the Knox campus experienced the rusty water, which appeared in sink faucets, toilets, and washing machines.

“I thought it was pretty gross and I was a little nervous to drink [the water] until it was clear again,” said freshman Caitlyn Joesten, a resident of Post.

Sophomore Shiri Salehin found out about the problem after her load of white laundry was stained by the water in the washing machines. After calling campus safety, they informed her about the reason for the problem and provided her with Iron Out; a product that can be washed with stained laundry in order to remove the rust spots. Galesburg provides the campus with free Iron Out during times of rust problems in the city’s water and any student can get it for free from campus safety or from campus facility services.

Even though the water presented no health risk, many students felt that campus officials could have communicated better. “Most people didn’t even know what had happened. They could have sent out an email,” sophomore Maya Sharma said.

Junior Caroline Castro echoed Sharma, and said she had wanted more information about the water. “I wanted to know about the safety of the water and if it wasn’t safe, [I wanted to know] where I could get water to drink,” said Castro.

The issue was resolved within a day. “There is not a lot we can do outside of letting people know the water is safe,” said Nelson. “If we tried flushing fire hydrants to clear up the water, it might create more complaints and more brown water.” If rust appears in the water again, Nelson advises that people refrain from using hot water in order to keep the rust out of water heaters and from stirring up more solids in the water mains. Maust also advises that students run the water in their faucets for a few minutes in order to flush some of the rust out of the immediate supply in the pipes.

Nelson hopes that when Galesburg’s new water treatment plant opens in 2010 it will help to lessen the instances of rust in the water supply. For now, Maust said that students should not hesitate to call campus safety or facilities services if a problem with the water arises again. “If there is an issue with the water, the city will let us know and we will be on top of it,” Maust said.

Katie Frank

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