Archive for Thursday, January 5, 2006

It’s a weird start for the New Year

January 5, 2006

I hope it isn't any indication on how this New Year will go, but it's certainly off to a strange start. Let's hope it gets better.

Oklahoma and Texas are on fire. Miners in West Virginia are tragically killed, but headlines across the country Wednesday morning claimed they were alive. Yes, the news never stops.

Neither does sports. The Kansas City Chiefs win, go 10-6, don't make the playoffs and Dick Vermeil retires ... again. Kansas State University isn't playing in a football bowl game and the men's basketball team is getting votes in coaches polls. Kansas University played in a bowl game and the men's basketball team isn't getting poll votes ... and the women's team is unbeaten. The world must be coming to an end.

But, that all pales in comparison for Baldwin residents who found themselves without water Tuesday morning or at least without enough water pressure to do normal tasks. Worse than that, we find out our water supply may be contaminated so we have to boil it before drinking or cooking with it.

This is crazy, but true.

It's going to be awhile before all of this settles out. Systems need to be checked -- especially the monitoring system that failed to warn the city when levels got low in the water towers -- and changes need to be made.

This can't happen here, but it did.

I'm convinced Murphy's Law was in effect. What else could explain how a minor leak in the water line between here and Lawrence Sunday turned into something that splashed Baldwin on the front pages of area newspapers and Kansas City television stations.

As a friend of mine in Kansas City pointed out, this is something you expect to hear about with cities in Missouri, but not Baldwin City. Ouch.

It's impossible to tell now what kind of economic impact the water woes will have, either. That won't be known until the Kansas Department of Health and Environment determines whether our water supply is tainted or not.

That will be Thursday afternoon at the earliest. Meanwhile, most restaurants in Baldwin are closed. Those that are open are going through various ways of boiling enough water to be able to serve.

As "luck" would have it, Baldwin schools weren't in session when the fiasco was at its height. But, special arrangements had to be made today. They even started Tuesday when the boil advisory was issued. That was evident when Gary Stevanus, athletic director at Baldwin High School, was seen downtown Wednesday with his truck filled with water containers. He had gone to Marion Springs Elementary School to fill them up so the basketball and wrestling teams could have water to drink for practice. What a pain.

"It's days like this when I love my job," Stevanus said.

Ain't that the truth.

No, we'll be looking at this craziness for quite awhile, I'm afraid.

Baker University closed down early Tuesday at 3 p.m. because of a lack of water. Baker reopened Wednesday with plenty of water ... but signs saying "Don't Drink The Water."

This is Baldwin City? It was this week.

I know I've learned a lot through this. I've never been involved with a boil advisory or order or whatever. That's something that happens elsewhere, not where I live. I also learned that we go through a boat-load of water. That 1.5 million gallons of water is only a two day supply was a surprise to me. Seems like an awful lot of water.

But, that also tells me how important the water supply is. It also tells me we need to figure out a better way to monitor it. I realize systems fail, believe me. I've seen plenty of computer systems fail over the years.

There has to be a better way. I'm sure it will be found. It has to.

No, this is Baldwin City, Kansas, not Missouri. And, what would have happened if we'd had a structure fire during the low pressure period? Luckily, we didn't find out. But, it was taken care of. Willow Springs and Palmyra township fire departments would have responded.

Let's hope the city will respond, too, with better answers for this potential disaster.

And, I'll take my share of the blame for this development. On a short week because of the holiday and with no city council meeting to report, I was "desperate" for news for this week's paper.

Be careful what you wish for applies.

But, by the same token, many people discovered the importance of breaking news on our Web site at It was one of the few ways the city could get the word out about the boil advisory.

We were glad to help, but hope we won't be doing the same for the water supply again. Ooops, be careful what you wish for.

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