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Everybody’s Drinking Problem

How tough is it to live without drinkable tap water?


Students with dorm kitchens followed boil alerts to keep clean water on hand. Photo by Anna Webster (COM’10)

The good news is that the water pipe break that left two million people in eastern Massachusetts without drinking water has been fixed, and as soon as water quality is tested and declared safe, it will once again be safe to drink tap water. The bad news is that all of that should be happening about the time many BU students are getting in their cars to leave campus. Or is that also the good news?

In the meantime, BU students are experiencing a brand-new relationship with something they have always taken for granted: water. How’s it going?

Amanda Kozar (CAS’12)
“I’m coping just fine. It’s just an annoyance. The main problem is there’s no coffee. I know that sounds shallow, but I need coffee!”

Kelley Brescia (CAS’12)
“It’s kind of funny how suddenly it’s 90 degrees and we have no drinking water on tap. And in Myles we don’t have air conditioning. I think the heat and the stress of finals is getting people hyped up about it, when it shouldn’t be that big of a deal. I’m not a coffee drinker, so I don’t feel deprived of that, but I’m hoping they get it fixed because it’s really awkward to brush your teeth with bottled water. It definitely reminds us how we take things for granted. A lot of people would be lucky to have running water at all.”

Luci Pike (CAS’12)
“I need caffeine to focus. This morning I had to walk to Cambridge to get coffee because it’s finals time. Then, because it’s so hot out, I had to buy bottled water to walk there, so I’ve spent $9 that I wouldn’t normally have spent, because I usually drink tap water.”

Cecelia Hart (COM’10)
“Walking into the GSU today and seeing that Starbucks was closed was devastating. I’m a coffee drinker and it’s finals week. The other thing is that I’ve been brushing my teeth with tap water, just because it’s the kind of thing we do without thinking about it.”

Hannah Putnam (CAS’12)
“Of all the weeks for this to happen, this has to be the worst. We are trying to study for finals and trying to move out at the same time. We can’t get coffee, so we are drinking energy drinks, which make you more dehydrated. We went to a 7-Eleven and the shelves were empty. <My boyfriend’s parents brought some water from where they live. We are using disposable cutlery because we can’t wash our own cutlery.”

Parth Patel (SAR’12), a clerk at City Convenience, 702 Commonwealth Ave.
“We had a run on water yesterday, and the water shelves were pretty empty, but they’ve been restocked. People are buying a lot of bottled cappuccino and coffee.”

Natalie Vera (CAS’13)
“I was nervous taking a shower. You’re supposed to keep your mouth closed, so I was like, ‘Should I even do this?’ And we had to brush our teeth with bottled water. That was weird.”

Taylor Pepe (COM’11)
“Oh man, BU is all on top of it [coverage of the crisis]. I got 4 phone calls and about 15 text messages over the last 24 hours. BU probably texts and calls me more than my girlfriend.”

Dylan Jackson (ENG’10)
“Last night I forgot — and brushed my teeth with tap water. I think that if it was seriously dangerous they would have shut off the water. I got the phone call, e-mail, and text from the BU emergency service. This is one of the first times when I felt that it was useful.”

Benny Yin (ENG’11)
“It’s especially hard during finals week to have to go without coffee, but we all have to make do with what we have. I usually just fill my water bottle up at water fountains, but now I can’t do that, so I bring an extra bottle with me from home.”

Mallory Rice (CFA’10)
“It’s annoying for our StuVi apartment to have to boil all our water, but we are managing.”

Kelisha Menon (CAS’12, COM’12)
I’ll just walk over to Cambridge if I need real drinks.”


20 Comments on Everybody’s Drinking Problem

  • Guyomar on 05.03.2010 at 5:28 am

    It’s not really that bad, but like everyone has said, it’s an inconvenient time for this to happen with the unusually hot weather and finals looming. I usually don’t buy bottled water so it’s strange to have so many bottles in my room but at least they haven’t been banned yet :-) I don’t really have any other option since it would take ages to boil enough water in my microwave and wait for it too, and I don’t even own anything large enough to store a supply in. I do feel a bit strange brushing my teeth and washing my hands with bottled water, but I’m glad that we do having running water that’s safe to shower in.

    I really have become used to life in Boston for this to make me uncomfortable, because I’m from a country where it’s not adviseable to drink tap water. We boil water/use bottles quite a bit there. But I never washed my hands/brushed my teeth with bottled water or felt uncomfortable about using undrinkable tap water. I guess it’s a matter of habit.

  • Anonymous on 05.03.2010 at 5:51 am

    Lack of potable water

    Some of BU’s overseas programs are in places where it is a given that water needs to be boiled a/o filtered before it can be drunk. So think of this as a ‘study abroad’ experience w/out leaving Boston!

  • Anonymous on 05.03.2010 at 7:12 am

    Honestly, I really think every person who is complaining about the 10 minutes that it takes to boil a pot of water needs to think about the fact that this inconvenience is short term for us. Even if it last a whole THREE weeks… there are SO MANY people around the world for whom this is a reality, for their ENTIRE life.

  • Anonymous on 05.03.2010 at 7:40 am

    “BU probably texts and calls me more than my girlfriend.” bahahaha

  • Anonymous on 05.03.2010 at 9:01 am

    Unless you’re in a situation where you can’t boil your own water, please think twice before taking the small bottles of water the university is offering. They will just end up in landfills. It should be made clear that you can drink the water if you boil it first so you could make yourself purified drinking water and even coffee (instant or in a French Press or just through a regular coffee maker as long as you use purified water). Also, you can wash your dishes if you either use boiled water or do a final rinse in a diluted bleach/water solution. The majority of the rest of the world has to live like this (many times in situations more dire than finals) and instead of encouraging waste and ignorance through the distribution of bottled water, universities like BU should be at the forefront of rationality, sustainability and environmentalism.

  • Anonymous on 05.03.2010 at 10:21 am

    Agreed with first comment

    There is no mention at any of the water stations (so far as I have since) reminding students to recycle any bottled water that they do take. Come on, BU

  • Anonymous on 05.03.2010 at 10:39 am

    Emergency Alerts

    In all honesty, the biggest inconvenience with this whole boil water advisory has been the text message updates from BU. They generally come five at a time, out of order, and frequently enough to be annoying.

    I’m glad steps are being taken to alleviate the coffee/finals problem, but after this is over, somebody needs to step up with the emergency alerts and turn them into a useful resource instead of spam.

  • Anonymous on 05.03.2010 at 11:00 am

    Stop complaining!!

  • Anonymous on 05.03.2010 at 11:07 am

    It's an annoyance, but we'll live

    I’m not too weird about brushing my teeth with bottled water. I mean, I normally filled up my cup with tap water and just brush my teeth with that.

    The only thing that annoys me is that it’s not as convenient to drink water, period. I always save up my glass bottles so I can filled them with water from the fountain. But now that the fountains’ are off limits, I have to resort to either boiling water or getting water bottles. Bottles are wasteful and boiling takes a long time without a stove (not to mention, wait for the water to cool, in general).

    Eh, but we’ll live; it’s not an apocalypse.

  • Anonymous on 05.03.2010 at 11:21 am

    boiling water

    Be thankful that you can boil water in your apartment. The people in dorm rooms have no means for making their tap water drinkable. It may take you a few extra minutes, but I’d gladly take your situation over having to spend money on wasteful plastic bottles of water.

    With that said, I appreciate that BU is supplying people in dorms with water during this time.

  • Anonymous on 05.03.2010 at 11:47 am


  • Anonymous on 05.03.2010 at 11:49 am

    I plan on taking as many free water bottles as possible. I am not thinking about landfills, but rather my current health. Water is the probably the most basic human requirement, so worrying about plastic in dirt is just silly.

  • Anonymous on 05.03.2010 at 12:14 pm

    can't boil water in the dorm rooms?

    Last time I checked you could boil water in a microwave…

  • Anonymous on 05.03.2010 at 12:28 pm

    Thank you BU for the emergency alerts. Without those, I personally would have been harmed.

  • Anonymous on 05.03.2010 at 12:36 pm

    It’s so nice to see that hundreds of thousands of tuition dollars have been wasted on the so-called ‘education’ of selfish, ignorant, entitled students who have never left their privileged bubbles. Really? The person who says “I’m going to take as many free water bottles as possible” needs a serious wake-up call and to consider the long-term consequences of their actions. Water IS a basic human right and last time I checked we still had it coming out of our taps…. just boil it and get over yourself.

  • Anonymous on 05.03.2010 at 12:45 pm

    Really now BU? I was always

    Really now BU?

    I was always taught that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

    Thanks for the text messages–I mean it sincerely; but, to treat it like life or death can’t do any good. Put it this way–we knew about it the second the break happened, but do you really think everyone in Boston watches the news 24/7? I got food from Super88 after the break happened and they were visibly using tap water in their food. Ignorance really is bliss when it comes down to it.

    That being said, I have been showering and brushing my teeth with the water, and I even drank a cup full of it as a challenge. It looks like water, it tastes like water. It’s water man, that’s all it is. I realize the potential for illness but let’s be real, if amoebas/bacteria in the water is really the problem then why hasn’t anyone gotten sick?

    Granted, it makes the city especially susceptible to harm if, say hypothetically, a dead animal found its way into the reservoir. But regardless, I think we’ve all jumped into a pond or swam in a lake at some point. No harm no foul.

    I wouldn’t condone drinking tons of it, but be real. Also take a minute and really think about how much you depend on tap water purely as a drink. Then ask yourself whether you’re really being impacted by this, or you just feel that way because you’re told you can’t have it.

    Sit down, quit whining, and shell out 99 cents for an Arizona Iced Tea or two.

    Coffee, on the other hand–f my life right now.

  • Anonymous on 05.03.2010 at 1:28 pm

    Re: Emergency Alerts

    Totally agreed that the alert system needs to be revamped. I don’t need multiple texts and e-mails and phone calls, especially just to tell me that nothing’s changed and they’ll let us know when it does. Wait until there’s actual news and streamline the communication, please!

  • Anonymous on 05.03.2010 at 2:51 pm

    If you actually think that just by boiling water, you are “purifying” the water you are sorely mistaken!! There are numerous types of bacteria that can persist in water even after it has been boiled at the hottest temperatures. You also can’t compare us to others living around the world that do not have access to clean water. For people that had to live with unclean water, their immune systems have created barriers and immunity that prevent them from getting ill but people are not exposed to those type of bacteria here because the water is cleaned and processed. It’s lucky that no one has gotten sick yet, but it is a real possibility. I am drinking bottled water only and using the boiled water to wash hands and brush my teeth.

  • Anonymous on 05.03.2010 at 5:44 pm

    Reality check

    As someone with an MPH who has lived in Africa and volunteers on the Medical Reserve Corps, boiling water for at least a minute (3 minutes at higher elevations) is the best way to purify water no matter how fragile you think your developed world constitution is. Check out the websites of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Boston Public Health Commission. Don’t drink the tap water (it can take up to 7 days for symptoms to show) and don’t go overboard with bottled water (it’s wasteful and completely unnecessary). Cheers!

  • Anonymous on 05.03.2010 at 8:00 pm

    I overheard a girl walking out of the dining hall on saturday saying, “I pay so much to do here. you’d think the least they could do is let us take more than one water bottle.”

    that’s the sort of first-world entitlement that BU is full of. yes, the lack of coffee is annoying, and it’s finals week, and it’s hot. but there are TONS of countries around the world where (a) there is always a scarcity of clean water (b) its hotter than this and (c) they pressures they are under look less like finals week and more like… well, survival.

    though I am kind of irked by the the amount of water bottles I’ve been seeing in trash cans these past few days. and the fact that water boilers are disallowed in the dorms. really, if the students were allowed to have water boilers, I wonder how many plastic bottles we wouldn’t have to be throwing away now.

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