SSU drinking water problem 1st detected over the weekend

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For the second straight day Tuesday, Sonoma State University warned more than 111,000 students, faculty and staff not to drink or cook with tap water, unless it is boiled first, due to potential sediment contamination from campus wells.

The university distributed thousands of bottles of water across the Rohnert Park campus and urged people to use hand sanitizer after washing in tap water until test results could determine whether the water is safe.

SSU officials hope to lift the water advisory Wednesday, university spokesman Paul Gullixson said.

A university official notified the state water quality regulators of a potential problem with the tap water on Sunday morning — more than 24 hours before SSU warned the campus about the issue, emails show.

The public warning, contained in an email sent to students, faculty and staff at 10:53 a.m. Monday morning, was required by the state Water Resources Control Board out of “an abundance of caution,” the notification stated.

“Due to an unanticipated drop in water pressure in our well-fed water system, Facilities Management is required to advise those on campus to use bottled water or boiled tap water for drinking and cooking purposes,” the notification stated.

The university hasn’t received any “confirmed reports” of students getting sick from drinking the water, Gullixson said.

“We have no reason to believe there’s any safety risk in the water,” Gullixson said. “If anything, the concern could be there could be some sediment in the water, like grains of sand or something.”

Some students said they were upset with the way the university handled the notification.

SSU student Madison Hughes, who lives on campus at the Sauvignon Village complex, said she didn’t immediately see the email sent by campus officials. She wishes the university had used its emergency-notification system to text or call students, and she thinks information in follow-up emails sent to students Monday and Tuesday hasn’t been clear.

“The sources from campus are saying it’s fine to wash your hands and shower, but at the same time they’re saying make sure to use hand sanitizer,” she said. “It’s confusing and kind of scary.”

Gullixson said campus officials didn’t text or call students with an emergency alert because “we didn’t feel this issue rose to that level. … We find that the best way to communicate on campus is via email and by posting notices around campus.”

Emails obtained from the California State Water Resources Control Board show SSU officials notified the board of a potential problem with the tap water more thanover 24 hours before alerting the campus community.

Davide Furtado, a supervising building services engineer with the university, emailed state water officials at 9:36 a.m. Sunday, advising them that SSU’s water system had lost pressure and chlorine levels were low.

The campus water system experienced “a loss of pressure because the wells didn’t come on to fill the storage tanks,” Furtado wrote.

“Even though the “CT” (chlorine) in the tanks is minimal until I get the tank completely full I believe the water is safe to use. All wells were just tested last week and there was no problem with the water,” he wrote.

State water officials emailed Furtado a reply at 8:45 a.m. Monday, informing him the campus was required to notify the public that the water is not safe to drink. The campus sent its first email to students, faculty and staff more than two hours later.

Furtado could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Gullixson said SSU officials think the tap water is safe to drink, but can’t lift the water advisory until state regulators certify the water is clean two days in a row. The water was tested by state officials Monday and Tuesday, Gullixson said, but he did not know the test results.

Asked why campus officials waited a day to notify the campus about the water issue, the SSU spokesman said they did not realize the notification would be necessary until they heard back from the state Monday. “We are required to notify the State Water Resources Control Board when that happens, but we did not know ... that the water quality was a problem until Monday, and that’s when they got back to us and said you have to do a boil water notice,” he said Tuesday.

Kayla Sierras, who lives in the Verdot Village housing complex on campus, said her dorm doesn’t have a kitchen, so she has no way to boil water.

“I’ve been using water bottles to wash my face and brush my teeth,” she said.

Fallon Ferguson, a student who also lives in Verdot Village, said the campus should provide more information to students.

“I just feel like they’re a university, so they should have this figured out better,” she said.

Anyone with questions about the campus water issue can contact the school’s environmental health and safety office at 707-664-3583.

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