Weekly Bulletin
October 4, 1999
Vol. 89, No. 4

[Page one]

Geowulf: Is this the future?
Exhibit celebrates Hemingway's art
Water crisis countdown
Snakes to fungus: tips for daily life
International experience
Nassau Notes


Water crisis countdown

When Hurricane Floyd passed through on September 16, he left behind a considerable amount of water, but not much of it could be drunk.

Firestone Library took on water in dozens of spots. Leaks in the roof damaged about 800 books in one spot and 30 in another. Water was also driven into the B and C levels at the Nassau Street-Washington Road corner. "Thousands of books and our computer room would have been soaked if we hadn't been able to muster up crews for wet-vacuuming -- first by some of our custodial staff who stayed until the end of the day and later by library workers," said Librarian Karin Trainer.

While no other serious leaks were reported, the aftermath of the hurricane found the campus surprisingly dry. The storm had damaged the primary water treatment facility of the Elizabethtown Water Co., which serves municipalities in six counties.

September 18. Elizabethtown declared a water crisis and began contacting large-scale consumers to negotiate stringent conservation and sanitation measures, as rapidly falling water pressure would leave fire hydrants and hospitals without sufficient water and leave the system vulnerable to bacterial contamination.

Dining Services began using paper plates, revised menus and began using bottled water for cooking; food service ceased in several campus locations and was reduced in others. Water coolers were made available throughout campus, with locations posted on the Public Safety website. Building Services used water only to clean restrooms and distributed waterless products to sanitize the hands. Athletics closed the swimming pools and Baker Rink, and all athletic shower rooms and laundries were shut off. Facilities shut down the air conditioning in buildings with natural ventilation and closed all dorm laundry rooms.

The most onerous conservation burden fell to residents of University housing facilities, who were asked to refrain from showering, washing clothes or dishes, or flushing toilets unnecessarily, and were warned to refrain from using tap water for drinking, cooking or brushing teeth. Students were advised of the symptoms they might experience if they drank contaminated water and were urged to contact Health Services if they experienced any such symptoms.

An ad hoc crisis management group was convened by Vice President for Finance and Administration Richard Spies to meet regularly over the next few days. The campus community was kept apprised via e-mail and advisories posted on the main University web page.

September 20. Departments with lab facilities turned off autoclaves, dishwashers and other systems that require water. Some suspended or postponed experiments. The Plasma Physics Lab substituted water from a local canal for use in experiments and fire protection and reduced its consumption by approximately 75 percent.

Later that day, Elizabethtown reported for the first time that water pressure in the system was holding stable, an indication that the conservation measures taken at Princeton and elsewhere were working.

September 21. Elizabethtown brought the first pumps back online, and the plant returned to approximately 10 percent operation. While the company emphasized that continued conservation was essential, it advised residential consumers they could resume taking brief showers.

The staff in deans' offices, Facilities and elsewhere began to receive numerous calls from anxious students and parents expressing concern about rumors that the campus water supply was highly contaminated and would soon be cut off. The offices of the Dean of Student Life and of the Graduate College e-mailed all students to reassure them that no evidence existed of contamination, and there was no plan to cut off the water supply. The rumors were subsequently attributed to a widely circulated e-mail message.

September 22. Facilities distributed 5,000 one-gallon containers of water free to undergraduate and graduate students.

Elizabethtown officials began to express optimism that the campus could expect substantially improved water flow by the weekend. Spies wrote to all faculty and staff: "The conservation steps all of you have taken have been absolutely critical in enabling the water company to stabilize the system THANK YOU FOR ALL YOUR HELP!"

September 24. Elizabethtown reported that the Princeton community could gradually return to more normal levels of consumption. As testing showed no signs of contamination, the company also lifted sanitary precautions. The University reopened dorm laundry rooms, as well as shower rooms in athletics facilities.

September 27. All University facilities were back to normal.