Thanks to a clog in an 86-year-old pipe, Western Carolina University’s upper campus was left without water off and on for two days.
Crews were sent out on Sept. 22, when a main sewer distribution line backed up. Sewage began entering the ground floor of McKee, an academic building on WCU’s upper campus, via floor drains at around 2:30 p.m.
The line is fed by the bulk of upper campus, save for the Bird building, which houses Health Services. The line reaches under McKee and Hoey, where the clog occurred.
Water was shut off for upper campus residence halls like Central Drive, Harrill and Reynolds on Monday, Sept. 24. Also affected were the shops located across from Forsyth, the Methodist Church and numerous private residences.
While the water was supposed to only be off between the hours of 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., second semester junior Cory Shropshire said water did not come back on until around 6 p.m. The water was turned back on for Monday night and into Tuesday morning, where the same 10-3 schedule applied.
“It had to be necessary. The water [line] in McKee broke. There’s nothing anyone could do about it,” said Victoria White, a resident of Central Road residence hall.
Students were alerted via email and posters throughout residence halls to go to Brown, the University Center or the Campus Recreation Center to use the bathroom and/or take a shower. Port-a-johns were also brought in to service residence halls left without water.
By Tuesday the doors to the ground floor of McKee were closed, ground level classes were moved to other locations and water to the building was shut off. Students, faculty and staff were required to use the restroom at surrounding academic buildings. “Do Not Enter” signs plastered the entrances along with notices of the lack of water. Holes have been broken through the ground floor windows, and black trash bags have been hung as tarps.
“The clog that caused such a problem can be attributed to the flushing of non-biodegradable items such as writing utensils, paper towels and batteries,” said Joe Walker, associate vice chancellor in the office of Facilities Management. “Students can help prevent future clogs by watching what they flush.
“The line is functioning well for its age,” added Walker.
Despite functioning well, the line will need to be replaced with a higher capacity. The line is on a list of repairs and renovations to be made in the future. Walker said the line was not replaced earlier because of the limited funding for university repairs and renovations along with other projects taking higher priority.
“I think it’s kind of ridiculous that they only have one pipeline. All these dorms are connected to one line, so if it goes out, they all go out,” said Shropshire.
According to an email sent to the university community from Sam Miller, the vice chancellor for Student Affairs, a national restoration team was called in to help with repairs.
“We thank you for your understanding, patience and cooperation in the matter,” said Miller in his statement. “We understand the inconvenience this will cause for many of you, and we are working to correct the problem as quickly as possible. University officials are continuing to monitor the situation and will provide updated information to the campus community as it becomes available.”
Now that the main line is fixed, Facilities Management will attempt to repair manholes around McKee and install check valves to prevent sewage backflow.
However, one manhole in particular has already caused a safety risk to a student.
In the meantime, the cleanup of McKee will continue. On Sept. 27, WCU officer Trenton Turpin answered a call from a student who “reported falling through a manhole cover on Central Drive near McKee,” said the Daily Activity Report. The status of the student’s condition was not listed.
While water will not need to be shut off again at this time, Walker said they will try to shut the water off during times like Fall Break when impact is minimal and that the sidewalk between Hoey and McKee may be done within a week, though parking may still be limited from impact.