KU drinking water system fell out of compliance with state regulators in July 2023; KU says water is safe

photo by: Shawn Valverde/Special to the Journal-World

The University of Kansas campus is pictured in this September 2023 aerial photo.

This story was updated at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, April 1, 2024.

Nearly nine months ago regulators found the University of Kansas’ drinking water system was out of compliance with a key safety standard, but KU officials say it “did not pose a significant health risk.”

The issues with the water system, though, are just now coming to light as KU posted a brief notice on its website on Friday.

“The water is good,” Jon Rossillon, a program manager in KU’s Environment, Health & Safety Department, said in a brief interview with the Journal-World.

However, inspectors with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment discovered in July that KU was not properly monitoring the amount of chlorine in the drinking water system on the Lawrence campus. Chlorine is an important disinfectant for drinking water systems.

State regulations require that chlorine levels be monitored daily, but KU was not monitoring the levels on weekends.

For regulatory purposes, KDHE considers KU its own public water supplier. That is despite the fact that KU does not operate its own water treatment plant. Instead, it buys its water from the City of Lawrence, which is responsible for treating it. However, KU doesn’t buy its water in the same manner as other businesses in Lawrence, which triggers the state regulations that KU take certain steps to monitor the campus water system.

KU also doesn’t rely on City of Lawrence crews to fix water leaks or do other maintenance on the system, instead employing its own crews or contractors, Rossillon said.

Rossillon said that crews in his department do 40 tests per month at various campus locations, testing for various water quality issues. Chlorine tests are part of that testing program, but those tests had not been done on the weekends. He said the tests do show different levels of chlorine at various points on campus, with older pipes sometimes decreasing the level of chlorine that is in the water that comes out of the tap.

But Rossilon said the City of Lawrence — which does test the chlorine levels at its two water treatment plants everyday — provides the university with water that has chlorine levels that exceed the minimum standards.

Rossilon, though, said the chlorine testing on campus is important, and that a misunderstanding of the regulations led to the lack of weekend testing. Weekend testing began March 1, but Rossilon acknowledged getting that system in place took longer than desired.

Rossilon said KDHE had given the university until November to get the testing problem corrected. The university had looked into an automated system to do the testing, but cost and logistical concerns have made that infeasible for the time being. Rossilon said he or another staff member are now coming in on the weekend to do the relatively quick test.

KU is still awaiting word on whether state regulators now consider the matter resolved. KU has not been fined for the violation, but Rossilon said the university did have to explain its delay in dealing with the matter and is awaiting final word from KDHE.

Rossilon said he’s confident the university has a better system in place going forward to respond to any violations in a more timely manner, and he said the university takes its responsibilities with the water system seriously.


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