Aging city infrastructure causes campus water outages

University officials said the sweeping building-wide water outages that have affected thousands of students this fall are most often caused by factors out of their control.

At least 14 water outages have affected residents in Madison, Guthridge, Phillips Amsterdam, Thurston, Mitchell and City halls, JBKO, The Dakota, Ivory Tower and International House this fall. In many cases, residents were notified less than two hours before water lines shut down.

And several times, residents expressed frustration when repairs lasted much longer than they are told.

Crews working on a burst water main near 19th and F streets this week caused Thurston and Mitchell hall residents to lose water on Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., although residents were originally told their water would be out on Monday from 6:30 p.m. to Tuesday at 2:30 a.m. The University notified residents at about 11:30 a.m. that their water would “unexpectedly” be out throughout Tuesday, instead, according to emails sent to residents.

Maintenance and building check-ups by GW rarely lead to widespread water outages, University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard said, adding that the number of outages affected by GW work is “not higher than average” this year.

D.C. Water and Sewer Authority spokeswoman Pamela Mooring said like many cities nationwide, the District’s water system is “playing catch up” in infrastructure investments, paying attention to its crumbling water system too late. Water mains in Foggy Bottom are on average about 77 years old.

“The system is old. The water mains are old,” she said. “It’s a shame they didn’t think about this a few decades ago.”

She added that the department will replace 13 miles of pipes in the next year, up from about four miles in 2010.

But the efforts have stalled in some parts of the city, like Foggy Bottom where a five-block long water main replacement project was put on pause to accommodate other construction in the area. D.C. Water and Sewer Authority planned to replace water mains along H Street from 19th to 24th streets starting last June, but now it is up in the air with no timeline.

The project, initially slated to be completed by February, would have installed roughly 3,200 feet of water mains.

D.C. averages about 400 water main breaks a year, while areas like Prince George’s County and Montgomery County will see that many in a month, Mooring said. She could not provide the number of leaking water mains that have affected GW buildings.

Sherrard declined to comment on whether there have been more building-wide outages prompted by District water problems, adding that students have not submitted more water outage-related FixIT requests this year.

Discontent among students stems largely from what they call a lack of communication from the University.

About 1,180 students in Ivory and Phillips Amsterdam halls lost water from Oct. 12 to 13 because of leaking mains, frustrating students who didn’t know when their water would return.

Corey Gregory said he and his roommates couldn’t brush their teeth, take showers or make coffee for three days in their Ivory Tower room.

Two back-to-back water outages this month shut off the water in the junior’s room for about 36 hours, forcing him to go next door to the Lerner Health and Wellness center to go to the bathroom and shower.

“Ivory is one of the most expensive dorms here, and I would expect a good quality and good service,” Gregory said.

In some instances, like the Amsterdam Hall and Ivory Tower outages earlier this month, GW warned students to hold off on water use even after repairs because of the “mud and sediment forced into the water lines.”

Senior Nina Liu said the Ivory-wide outage this month was compounded by shutoffs of either hot water or cold water in her 7th floor room that have persisted for the past three weeks.

Liu said she thought the University took “way too long” to respond to the water failures and the advisory to visit Lerner for bathroom or shower use was “completely ridiculous” because it closes at 8 p.m. on Saturdays and does not open until 11 a.m. on Sundays.

“We just feel like they took really long to fix it. And we were really disappointed in that,” Liu said.

Chloe Sorvino contributed to this report.

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