What Caused November’s Water Main Leak, and Will it Happen Again?

On Nov. 9 last semester, repairs on a water main leak caused the water in Hendricks, Klassen and Young Residence Halls on Point Loma Nazarene University’s campus to be shut off for hours, which temporarily impacted students.

Jeff Bolster, vice president for University Services, explained that the water main was old and developed a leak near the stairs heading down to Young Hall. Fixing that leak required digging out the section of pipe that was leaking, and fully replacing it.

Jay Medlam, manager of Facilities Maintenance, added that PLNU has contracts with vendors who are ready to step in and provide what is needed. In this case, he said that Wilson Construction, a company that specializes in underground utilities, arrived on campus at 6 a.m. the next morning to dig up and replace the pipe.

Following their arrival, Wilson Construction flushed out all the air in the water main and replaced the dirt before turning the water back on. Medlam added that fortunately, this was a fairly easy repair, as these can be much more difficult to fix if the leak is deeper or located in a location that is harder to access. 

Normally, the water could be shut off just for Young Hall, but Bolster said that the valve that was supposed to shut off Young’s water was not working, so they had to go further up the hill.

Medlam said that more valves are being added and replaced throughout the campus, and if this were to happen again, “we could turn it off without going further upstream and affecting more buildings in the line.”

Medlam explained that systems like this are also in place for the gas lines around campus, and that they are always working to modernize and update the systems on campus.

“Every time we do a capital improvement project over the summer, we add a couple more valves,” Medlam said.

Medlam added that putting in this many valves used to not be as common, and that while they are looking to modernize the system, it is a slow process. The school is also looking to add computer systems that would detect leaks and send an alert, instead of waiting until someone notices the leak. 

Despite University Services’ quick response to the leak, some students still wished more had been done.

Cory Yoshimura, third-year accounting and finance double major and Hendricks Hall resident assistant (RA) felt that while the response in November was adequate, the school could have been quicker to ensure that people had drinking water during this time, although the school did supply water bottles to students in impacted halls. 

Yoshimura added that the RA’s did not have a plan for dealing with a situation like this, and that having a plan or a bit more guidance could make situations like this easier in the future. 

As for if something like this will happen again any time soon, Bolster assures students that the school is constantly doing preventative maintenance.

“Jay [Medlam] has really been key these last five years or so just doing a lot more preventative maintenance, and staying ahead of this stuff,” Bolster said. This includes putting in newer types of piping that will last longer, and adding more shutoff valves. “For the most part, the systems run really well and do their job. But we’ll get a section of this old freshwater pipe once in a while that buckles in.” 

Written By: Troy Davidson