Call a midwife: Oakland’s water broke

Carnegie Mellon students found themselves between a rock and a dry place after a water main near the Heron Hill water pumping station at the corner of Centre Avenue and North Dithridge Street in Oakland burst around 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 30. Many campus buildings, as well as off-campus Oakland apartments, were either without water or had very low water pressure.

Carnegie Mellon got word of the break at about 2:30 p.m. from the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, according to Marty Altschul, university engineer and director of Facilities Management Services (FMS). Since the university’s water supply is dependent on the city’s, there was nothing that university personnel could do directly to repair the line.

“It was a break in their line, not ours,” Altschul said.

Altschul assigned different groups of personnel, including residence life staff, university police, and FMS members, to assess water flow in different campus buildings. Carnegie Mellon is served by the Heron Hill reservoir as well as the Highland Park reservoir, and while the university is aware of which buildings are served by each reservoir, there are cross valves between the reservoirs so personnel can never be certain where the water for each building is coming from at any given time.

Since the water and sewer systems work partially based on gravity, the buildings that experienced the lowest water pressure were those at the highest elevations, which are the Hill residences and the buildings on main campus. Buildings at lower elevations, such as Scaife Hall and Roberts Engineering Hall, reported better water pressure.

Carnegie Mellon has domestic water systems as well as central cooling systems, both of which were operating on reduced capacity. FMS advised the campus community to shut off as much electronic equipment as possible.

At 4:40 p.m., the School of Computer Science shut down non-facilities machines due to the rising temperature of the Wean Hall machine room.

“It’s like stopping your car when the too-hot light goes on instead of waiting until the engine is cut,” Altschul said.

University Police’s involvement in the crisis was minimal.

“It’s not a police problem, it’s a facilities management problem,” said Sergeant Steven Sabol.

They did, however, help FMS install 10 temporary portable restrooms in the Morewood Gardens parking lot, another 10 outside of Margaret Morrison near the corner of Frew Street, and five at the intersection of Forbes and Morewood. They also distributed hand sanitizer to those using the facilities.

Roads remained open in the immediate vicinity of the university; however, in Oakland, North Dithridge Street was blocked off at the intersection of Bayard Street, and Centre Avenue was blocked off west of North Craig Street, as of 7 p.m. Aug. 30. Access remained open to all on- and off-campus university housing areas.

All roads have since been reopened.

Dining Services continued its regular hours, according to an e-mail sent by Tim Michael, assistant vice president for Campus Services.

The Heinz School canceled all evening classes for the night of Aug. 30, only the second class-meeting for the fall semester.

The break was repaired late Thursday night, at which point the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority began to refill the Heron Hill reservoir.

At 6 p.m. on August 30, Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority reported that they expected full water pressure to be restored by 6 a.m. Friday, Aug. 31. In the meantime, the department asked all affected Oakland residents to conserve water as much as possible.

While water pressure returned to normal in all university facilities by the morning of August 31, the university warned the campus community not to consume the water due to possible contamination. The university supplied gallon jugs of purified water to those on campus throughout the day. Students were also advised to boil tap water.

On the morning of Saturday. Sept. 1, the university informed the community that the water had tested free of contaminants and was safe to drink.