Direct costs of water main break reached approximately $10,000

Workers try to cool off the pumps keeping water out of the hole under West State Street on Feb. 16. (Photo by Matt Starkey)

The break in the main water line that caused Ohio University to cancel all classes for a day cost the City of Athens and Ohio University thousands of dollars.

Direct costs associated with the water main break that shut down OU’s main campus and resulted in a city-wide boil order on Feb. 16 were approximately $10,000, Andy Stone, the city engineer and director of Public Works, estimated.

“For this particular break, we had to cut out a section of the water line,” Stone said. “Sometimes breaks are small enough we could just put a clamp or pressurize, but in this instance, a whole length of the pipe was destroyed and had to be removed. It was the main artery from the water plant to the city.”

Since the line broke during the day and crew members were already working, the city did not have much overtime cost associated with the break, Stone said.

“As far as indirect costs, costs to the water users for the closures and not being able to do certain things, that’s difficult to say,” he said.

Most of Ohio University did not have access to water during the closure, forcing the campus to cancel classes and restrict bathroom usage in residence halls. Vice President for Student Affairs Jason Pina said the university transported 75 portable toilets from Lancaster for students to use.

“That would’ve been rough for students,” Miranda North, a senior studying athletic training, said. “I don’t live in the dorms, but I would not have liked the fact that I could not shower and the only way was to go to the community center to shower, but a lot of students don’t have cars to get there.”

The university also provided approximately 57,000 water bottles for students who were unable to drink tap water, Joe Lalley, the senior associate vice president of Information Technologies and Administrative Services, said.

Facilities could not provide a holistic cost of the portable toilets, water bottles and other associated costs as of press time.

The line has broken in the past, Stone said, but it’s “very rare” and has happened one other time since he began his position in 2009. The exact cause is uncertain at this point, but Stone said it likely resulted from high service pumps at the water treatment plant, which caused a water hammer. A water hammer is a specific plumbing noise caused by fluctuating pressure in pipes.

“It’s a pretty robust, large line, but when it does break, it is pretty impactful,” he said. “This was probably the largest break in the line. The last time it broke it wasn’t as big of a hole in the line.”

OU has its own reserve tank in The Ridges, but Stone said it could not have provided enough water to support the campus because it is not designed that way. The university did switch to using well water instead of city water to create steam, he said.

Pina said despite the inconvenience, it was great to see OU students and Athens residents come together.

“On the one hand, obviously, it was a logistical nightmare and throws everyone’s schedules off,” Pina said. “The coolest thing though is how everyone sets aside whatever agenda or whatever other issues are going on.”


Originally published for The Post on March 1, 2017.


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