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Sunday, September 24, 2023


Students not notified of ‘brown water’ in Cougar Village I

Water during the outage was cold and discolored. | Thomas Dwyer/The Cougar

Every afternoon, pre-business freshman Maranda Meserole finishes classes and returns to Cougar Village I to make her usual pot of coffee. On Oct. 31, brown water coming out of her bathroom sink interrupted those plans.

A deliberate hot water outage at the residence hall introduced discolored water into Meserole’s and dozens of other residents’ sinks.

Despite the outage’s emergency nature, UH Facilities Services knew its extent and timing, according to an internal Emergency Outage Notification report. Still, residents were not notified about the outage or its possible effects, which include brown water.

Meserole said she learned about the brown water on Snapchat.

“My friends said it was brown more than yellow, and when I finally got back to my dorm, it was kind of clear at the beginning, and then it was super yellow,” she said. “It was gross. It wasn’t like bits or pieces or anything. It was just discolored water.”

She said she heard from students living in nearby rooms and her resident assistant that Facilities Management was flushing out the plumbing, but residents received no official notification or explanation for the brown water.

“I wish they would have told us, like if anything, that morning,” Meserole said. “Send out like an email, ‘Hey by the way, the water is going to turn brown at some point.’ It would have been nice to know.”

Executive Director of Student Housing and Residential Life Don Yackley said the water system remained disinfected during the outage.

The residence hall’s hot water system was shut off from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. to repair the building’s mixing valve, which combines hot and cold water, mechanical supervisor Steve Lopez said. The valve had caused issues with the building’s hot water for three to four weeks before it was repaired, he said.

Now, the building’s hot water should have no issues.

Typically, with routine maintenance, the mixing valve should not create issues. Lopez said the building’s mixing valve will be maintained on a regular basis going forward to prevent such extended outages.

Yackley said outages such as this one often allow sediment in the pipes to temporarily discolor the water.

“Once the water system is back to normal, this discoloration is flushed out of the system and returns to normal,” Yackley said. “Taste, odor and color — while important aspects of water quality — are not the ones that are of major concern so long as the system remains disinfected.”

Regardless of repairs or outages in campus buildings, harmless water discolored by sediment may appear at any point, Lopez said. Running the tap for four to five minutes should clear it up, he said.

UH experienced brown water throughout campus last September, and for days students relied on food trucks and limited dining hall menus for meals.

Moody Towers Dining Commons was also closed most of Oct. 21, 2016, due to a hot water outage, and dining services directed students to dine at Cougar Woods Dining Commons in the meantime. Moody reopened that evening at 9:30 p.m.

Moody was not closed last Tuesday in relation to the hot water outage at Cougar Village I, but students were left uninformed and relied on talking to others for information.

“Typically when there is a planned outage, the building staff send an email to residents letting them know about a situation,” Yackley said. “In some cases, emergency repairs happen, and there is not time to send out the notice before the work happens. We typically try and send notification even after the issue has been resolved.”

Yackley and Lopez said mineral buildup in Cougar Village I and other campus buildings can happen occasionally but should not be expected.

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