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Officials discuss campus water supply

Casey Kenny | Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Notre Dame students might wonder why the water from different campus drinking fountains may differ in taste. A drink of water from a drinking fountain in the Rock might taste quite differently than that from a fountain in DeBartolo or a residence hall.

Mike McCauslin, assistant director of the Risk Management and Safety Department (RMSD), the entity responsible for monitoring and sampling the University’s water supply, offered several explanations for the disparity in the taste of water from various drinking fountains.

“The taste of drinking fountain water depends on a variety of components,” McCauslin said. “Taste depends on the location of the well, the age of the pipe and the amount of time the water sits in the pipe.”

There are six wells serving the water system, all of which are located on the campus proper. The water is drawn from deep aquifers surrounded by substantial clay barriers that serve to protect the groundwater supply, according to the RMSD’s 2009 Annual Drinking Water Quality Report.

“The wells are high in minerals and, depending on the well, the iron and manganese levels can fluctuate,” McCauslin said. “When water sits in a pipe for an extended period of time, these minerals can precipitate out and cause this different taste.”

The change is taste may not please students, but McCauslin said it isn’t harmful.

“While these minerals might create an objectionable aesthetic in the water, they present no health concern and have no effect on the water quality,” McCauslin said.

RMSD carries out routine monitoring and sampling of water on campus for harmful contaminants and, together with Notre Dame’s Department of Facility Operations, has added filters on several drinking fountains — all done just for aesthetic reasons.

According to Paul Kempf, director of utilities for the Office of Business Operations, his office works closely with RMSD to ensure the safety of campus drinking water.

“We don’t treat our water like most municipalities, which simply add chlorine,” Kempf said. “A lot of the research done on campus needs water without chlorine and we ensure quality by testing rather than adding chlorine.”

Water taste varies from individual to individual, particularly those with sensitive taste buds.

According to McCauslin, there is a step that students can take to improve the taste of water from the drinking fountains.

“Taste often depends on the frequency of use: the more you use the fountain, the better the water will taste,” McCauslin said. “Let the water run for 15 to 20 seconds and this should improve the taste.”

Sophomore Ryan Lynch has his preferences on where he gets his drinking water.

“I am not a big fan of some of the water fountains on campus and usually stock up on water bottles, but the ones in the dorms are alright and taste good,” Lynch said.

Others are not so willing to spend their money on bottled water.

“I try not to buy bottles of water so if the taste of the water from some fountains bothers me, I just get it from the dining hall,” senior Shannon Coyne said.