Thar she blows

Mar 302006
Authors: Mike Donovan, BRANDON LOWREY The Rocky Mountain Collegian

Busted pipes near Allison Hall flooded underground tunnels beneath with boiling water Thursday morning, leaving every campus building west of the Lory Student Center without heat or hot water for hours.

Maintenance officials said they may be pumping out thousands of gallons of undrinkable irrigation water throughout the night, and had no estimates as to when the work might be done.

But by 3:30 p.m. all services were at least partially restored. Allison Hall, which had been completely deprived of running water for nearly two hours, once again saw cold water. Hot water was restored by 7:30 Thursday evening.

Officials discovered the leak at about 11:30 a.m. and shut down the steam plant – the facility that provides heating and warm water throughout campus – for more than two hours.

Before workers found and fixed the leak, experts said the outlook was grim.

“Facilities is going to have to keep digging until they find it,” Earlie Thomas, director of environmental health services, said just after the rupture. “There’s six miles of piping underneath our campus. It could be anywhere.”

Into the afternoon, murky, boiling water bubbled up through manholes and cracks in the ground throughout campus, billowing foul-smelling steam into the wind.

Students outside the LSC braved the harmless but malodorous fumes.

“We were actually walking by, and (steam) started shooting up through the cracks,” said Gabriel Alford, a senior computer information systems major. “We were like, ‘Whoa, something’s about to explode.'”

His friend, freshman construction management major Stephen Norris, said that the smell was bad, but “probably still healthier than being in Greeley.”

“It smells like nasty socks and s–t, blended up,” said Preston Garcia, a sophomore accounting and finance major.

Others agreed.

“It smells like fish out here,” said Allison Voss, a sophomore biochemistry major. When she first smelled the odor, she thought, “It’s that damn fish pond.”

The reason for the fishy aroma: A hot steam pipe, which runs along the bottom of a tunnel beneath campus, cracked when cool water from a separate leak deluged it. The hot pipe and escaping steam boiled the undrinkable floodwater and whatever debris that was in the tunnel.

Students were smelling this stew.

The next question was whether Allison Hall would have to go a night without any water.

Pipes beneath campus carry one of two kinds of water: Drinkable water used for people – domestic – or undrinkable water used for watering grass and filling the lagoon – irrigation.

The initial leak spouted from an irrigation water pipe beneath Allison Hall’s back driveway. After bursting, the water raced toward the main steam tube, near the LSC. This caused the steam tube to crack.

Within 30 minutes of the leak, maintenance workers were on the scene trying to pump the water out of the steam pipe’s tunnel. Water continued to be pumped for about three hours, according to the director of building health and safety, Eric March.

“Over 10,000 gallons of water have been pumped out of the tunnel,” March said while watching the cleanup process at about 2:30 p.m.

Allison Hall’s drinking water was shut off around 1:30 p.m. and remained that way until 3:20 p.m. The clean, domestic water was turned off while workers tried to determine the source of the burst.

Workers were relieved when they determined that the undrinkable irrigation water pipe was the origin.

“We were hoping it would be irrigation water, not domestic water, and we were right,” said Carol Dollard, a utility engineer for CSU.

The irrigation water from the pipe was still being pumped out as of Thursday evening. Once the water is completely cleared from the area, a team will determine the problem and work on fixing the hole. There is no rush on the repair, since no drinking water was affected, according to Dollard.

With the steam plant closed for over two hours, dining halls were inconvenienced by the leak. The lack of hot water meant that some dining halls were unable to wash dishes during lunchtime.

But the problem could have been a lot worse, said Tonie Miyamoto, the communications coordinator for the housing and dining services.

“We were lucky that the problem occurred during the day and not at night when students are having dinner or showering,” Miyamoto said.

While the water was off for Allison Hall, residents were told they could only flush their toilets once before the water flow resumed.

The water was still hot for Allison Hall when Elizabeth Muir, a human development and family studies freshman started her shower. About halfway through the shower, she said the water turned cold.

“That sucks,” she said. Muir said that if hot water were to be shut off overnight, this inconvenience would leave a lot of dirty dorm residents in its wake.

“There was no hot water today, so a lot of us didn’t have a shower,” Muir said, quickly adding that she did.

Brandon Lowrey and Mike Donovan can be reached at

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