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Wading through the fountains: Taking a critical look at the water quality on the Belknap campus

By Maggie Cunningham–

Water samples outside of Grawemeyer Hall, the only building that tested differently in the Cardinal’s recent water quality experiment.

The water that you get from a bottle might be markedly different than the water you get from a campus fountain.

Campus water is provided to the University of Louisville by the Louisvlle Water Company and was recently tested by the Cardinal. A bottle of Nestle Pure Life purified water, with a label boasting enhancements with minerals for taste, tested very soft and acidic on the pH scale. In contrast, the campus water is moderate on the hardness and pH scale.

The Louisville Cardinal took samples at eight different locations around campus at various buildings such as Strickler Hall, the Houchens building, Crawford Gym, Brandeis School of Law, Grawemeyer Hall and the Ekstrom Library. All samples that were taken were given a quick dip test for pH levels, alkalinity, hardness, nitrites and nitrates.

The Physical Plant building is the main location on campus for water distribution. It receives water directly from the Louisville Water Company. The farther away on campus from the Physical Plant building, fewer bubbles come out of the spout. All tests came back at adequate levels but one.  The least bubbly sample, Grawemeyer Hall, brought back low levels of pH as well as a slightly elevated nitrite level.

Elevated nitrites are only unsafe at extremely high levels, and is mostly only dangerous for pregnant or nursing women and babies. Water hardness refers to the mineral content in water. If the water is hard, it is high in minerals such as calcium and magnesium and will feel gritty or taste metallic. If a pH level came back extremely low, it would mean that the water is acidic and dangerous.

Although all samples tested safe from the water fountains across campus, some interesting facts emerged. For instance, only footsteps away from Grawemeyer at Brandeis School of Law, all tests were at acceptable levels, however it took several minutes to fill a sample bottle. The fountain had hardly any water pressure at all. In addition, Gardiner Hall had no water fountains to sample.

Water from a fountain in the basement of the Houchens building, where the Cardinal offices are located, had a cloudy and translucent appearance.

The Cardinal turned to a representative from the Louisville Water Company to clarify what the cloudiness meant, and if it was safe to drink.

“Water will look cloudy right out of the faucet because of bubbles if it has been sitting there for a long time.  We also see them more often in the winter,” says Kelley Dearing-Smith, strategic communications manager at the Louisville Water Company.

The Louisville Water Company is responsible for all water it sends to the university before it gets to campus. Dearing-Smith says, “Before water leaves the plant, there are about 200 tests we do.” Once the water reaches campus, it becomes the university’s responsibility to maintain and monitor the water quality; however, the Louisville Water Company does random tests all over town every day to make sure that the water is as potable as when it left the plant. “The water you get is what we have here at (the Louisville Water Company),” Dearing-Smith said.

Currently, the only updated water fountain that is on campus is in the School of Business; however, student body president Justin Brandt recently introduced a proposal for a new type of water fountain on campus.

The newly proposed water bottle filling stations are essentially updated water fountains with filters. The spouts are positioned in a fashion that makes it easier to fill up a cup or bottle and therefore saves students and faculty the time and extra plastic bottles. There is also an indicator on the stations that monitors how many bottles have been saved by its use.

This is not the first time the water bottle filling stations have been proposed at U of L. GRASS also recently tried to pass a plastic bottle fee through SGA and use the fees to make the upgrades.

SGA, however, has already budgeted for these funds. Brandt says, “We’re trying to get it done by the end of the year, but definitely by next year.”

“It’s interesting, because some are cheap. They vary from $300 to $2000 depending on the structure,” Brandt says.

Depending on the fountains’ structure, some are easy to just place and are therefore cheaper than others which may require new plumbing installed. The proposed locations range from buildings like Strickler and Davidson to the Ekstrom Library and the SAC.

Brandt said that once the first wave is put in successfully, a second wave of new filling stations will be brought to the university’s campuses including the HSC campus. Several graduate students in the Senate spoke about the need for the stations there as well.

“I applaud the campus for doing this,” says Dearing-Smith. The Louisville Water Company has recently taken up Louisville Pure Tap as cause to help with the stigma that often comes with tap water and public water fountains.

Dearing-Smith said that Jefferson Community and Technical College has already replaced its fountains, and that the University of Louisville has some of the Louisville Water Company’s branded fountains on campus as well.

The Louisville Water Company has consistently recieved awards on quality and on taste. For example, in 2008, Louisville water was awarded the “Best of the Best” Water Taste Test award by the American Water Works Association. Last year, the company won the Kentucky – Tennessee section of the taste test for the third time in five years.

news@louisvillecardinal.com
Photos by Simon Isham/The Louisville Cardinal

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