Townhouse water 'smell[s] like shit'

For the past two years, residents of the recently constructed townhouses on Musser Hill have been complaining about the smell of their hot water. "Why?" one student asked our reporters - "Why does the water have to smell so bad. With the amount of money [the Facilities Department] has laid out for the construction of these things - why does the water have to smell like shit?" Residents began noticing the smell immediately upon moving into the townhouses during the '01-'02 school year, and the infamous smell remains a mystery - and a cross for many Carls to bear.

Why, indeed? Why does the water smell so bad? I asked myself as I shook the hand of Utilities Director Wayne Beierman. Then, aloud. "Wayne, people want to know - what's up with the stank in the townhouse water?" Wayne grinned, exuding a friendly, managerial air. "Now that's a good question, Chuk. A very good question indeed" Then it came. Words pouring out of his mouth, properly formed vowels dropping like water pressure gauges from his sideways grin. "It's a long story," he warned me. I checked my watch. Hell, I was on company time. I'd even take Wayne out for a few cocktails afterwards - and put it on the company tab.

"After the townhomes were built," he said, "we noticed a bad smell in the water almost immediately. For the past two years now, we've had an independent contractor take water samples, and he has not detected anything in excess of the state drinking-water levels. We did some tests of our own and found the same thing - no mercury, arsenic, sulfur, any of that. And still the water smelled funny. Like rotten eggs, students kept saying. We flushed the main from the Boiler Room to [the townhouse lines] during hydrant testing - thinking it would probably help - but it had no," he paused for emphasis "discernible effect."

"I was baffled. The company that laid the pipe installed the mains properly - it wasn't a mechanical problem we were looking at. And then," he effused, "I lit on an idea." I waited, mouth agape and wrists cramping, for his wisdom. "There's about 750 feet of line that connects from the town to the boiler room. The city told us we'd be at the end of their line. So about a month ago, I had the town water tested - we test monthly, when we run the water through our softeners. Now, when we tested the town water we found a really high magnesium content - something like 35 ppm. But when we checked the water on campus, it came out with normal levels. So I asked [chief engineer] Don Weed how long it would take to flush the 750-foot line. He said he figured it'd take 10 minutes." He paused here, leaning back in his chair, a ruminative light in his deep brown eyes. "I told him to flush it for 15 minutes. For 15 minutes.

"We've done it once, and we'll do it again. We just aren't gonna quit. We'll continue to work, to work with our customers, until we're satisfied with the results. Its not a health hazard or anything of that caliber, but its unpleasant to have to live with smelly water on a daily basis. Plus, our independent engineer told me personally that high levels of magnesium would cause a bad smell in the hot water pipes."

Case closed, I thought to myself. Here was a man willing to fight the odds to rid our fair campus of this smell. The stuff of legends, right in front of me. I asked him if he had anything he'd like to say to students on the matter. Did he ever. Leaning forward, he lowered his voice, almost confidentially to me. "Keep working with us. Be our eyes and ears out there - and our noses. This is an annoyance, and we want to take the lead in getting this thing squared away." He checked his watch, briefly. "I have to run, Chuk. Thanks for your time."

I packed my notebook. The Tom Collinses would have to wait. Here was a man on a mission. I thanked him profusely as he saw me to the door. There, he paused and looked down, almost sheepishly. And spoke.

"I wake up nights, thinking about this one. It's been a real head-scratcher."