Water outages cause commotion

Zoe Stratos | opinions editor. PWSA construction continues on Forbes Avenue and Chatham Square.

by Zoe Stratos | opinions editor

March 3, 2022

Over the past few days, residents and commuters noticed water disruptions all over campus: Many of the buildings such as College Hall, the Student Union and Libermann Hall experienced complete shut offs, while residents in Brottier Hall found themselves showering in cold water after outages.

The disruptions were originally part of an emergency, unexpected water main break at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Chatham Square. In response, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) got right to work, but students are getting tired of the constant outages even after the main was fixed.

“It was very inconvenient because we weren’t able to do dishes or wash our hands, and I was scared that the toilet tank would run out,” said Alaina Stewart, a resident living in Brottier. “I had to put off my showers a lot, and when the water did come back it was freezing.”

Stewart, a major in nursing, added that many of her nursing friends who also live in Brottier are “annoyed” with the shut offs, being that they need to shower after clinical rotations or healthcare related jobs.

“This was unforeseen and we gave notice [to the university] as soon as we could,” said Mora McLaughlin, the construction communications project manager for PWSA. “It has been fixed. As for the cause, we cannot say exactly why. Generally speaking, the age of the pipe is a factor.”

But the outages didn’t end, as scheduled infrastructure work on Forbes and Fifth avenue continued on the morning of March 2, and another outage shut down water in the Union, Trinity Hall and the School of Law around 10:30 a.m.

McLaughlin said in an email that PWSA would be “coordinating closely with Duquesne Facilities Management so they are aware of the impacts on campus” though never stated that an outage would occur that morning.

In response to the surprise outage, the university sent an email at approximately 10:45 a.m. stating that PWSA “initiated an unannounced water shut off,” and that Facilities Management would be in contact with them to fix the issue.

The situation was atypical, as residents in Brottier — and all students on certain occasions — have  received emails each time a disruption occurs.  

The first came in on Feb. 16, informing students of a water main break on Fifth Avenue and Chatham Square. The university mentioned in the email that PWSA was “actively working on the issue and hopes to have it resolved as soon as possible.”

The flood of emails continued to come in on Feb. 22, stating that unexpected water outages occurred during replacement of the water main; on Feb. 23, stating that testing would result in outages; on Feb. 23 again, stating that work on the system would result in outages; and on Feb. 24, stating that there would once again be work that resulted in outages. An outage on March 1 went without an email notice.

“Duquesne’s facilities services staff are in contact with PWSA to access up-to-date information, which is then shared as soon as possible from the Duquesne University Official Communications email account to faculty, staff and students,” said Gabe Welsch, vice president of marketing and communication.

Welsch also said that students should be checking emails regularly for updates, though sometimes they come in at short notice.

“The university is in regular contact to help ensure that outages are short-term so as not to impact the campus too greatly,” he said.

All students, faculty and staff received an email on March 1 warning of faulty in-line valves on upper McAnulty Drive between the Administration Building and the School of Law, reducing traffic to one lane. No outages were expected to occur. Public Safety was on hand to direct traffic, though drivers and pedestrians were warned to use caution when passing through the area.

“The emails are nice because at least we know why the water is shutting off, but sometimes the emails come in after the water stops working. It’s definitely annoying to have so many shut -offs at once, but I don’t really know if they have a say over when the city starts digging up pipes,” Stewart said.