Administration tamps down water access across campus
By: Yasmine Abdeldayem
From unfilled vending machines in lounges to inoperative fountains across campus, students face CSI’s water scarcity at every turn.
“The water fountains have been off and the vending machines are empty as part of the COVID response measures,” said Hope Berte, the Vice President for Campus Planning, Facilities Management, and Operations, in an email. “The CSI water supply is fine.”
Of CSI’s many academic buildings, 1A, 1N, 2A, 2S, 2N, and 3S have had vacant shelves since August’s reopening. CSI’s 21 water fountains and 5 water-refilling stations typically are the back-up option for students in need of a quick drink, but the facilities are not functioning.
Collectively, campus dining and vending services had accumulated more than 3,000 cases of water over the course of the 2019-2020 academic year. That total cratered to 188 in the 2020-2021 shutdown year and now, in the 2021-2022 period, the amount stands at a measly 54 cases to date.
The 2019-2020 semesters’ large supply of 72,312 water bottles, with an additional 9,195 liter bottles, meant that students didn’t have to search far for their next drink. Availability was a guarantee; indecision, due to the bevy of options, was perhaps the only obstacle.
Now, with only 0.018% of that past yearly supply stocking campus today, students have to take what they can get, which is often nothing at all.
“We’ve been operating at a loss ever since March 2020,” said Jodi Merendino, director of the Office of Dining Services. “But it’s understood by the administration that we need to provide this service, even if there’s not enough customers to shoulder the costs.”
The decision on where to prioritize vending machine supply was then made by pinpointing, with aid from the Office of the Registrar, which buildings had the highest occupancies, such as 5S. Other buildings, like 2S, also have in-person classes, but being that they don’t meet the criteria for high priority, their lounges remain without water.
The water restriction is part of CUNY’s COVID-19 prevention plan, but this extent may not be necessary. The CDC has concluded that COVID-19 hasn’t been found in drinking water, since basic water treatment processes in municipal drinking water systems render the virus inactive.
Despite being a “CUNY-wide” mandate, the plan is out of sync among campuses. Baruch College restored access to water-refilling stations, in light of their low numbers for positive COVID-19 cases and high vaccination records, while CSI’s stayed off.
The loss of operative fountains and refilling machines for water at no cost has resonated across campus. Summer Chan, a junior in CSI’s nursing program, is used to budgeting however she can, from bringing food from home on busier class days to relying on a reusable water bottle for hydration.
The latter strategy has had no place in today’s campus, so she has ditched convenience and improvised in various ways; her most recent method involved heading to a Starbucks ten minutes from campus just for a free cup of water.
According to Berte, the drought is expected to lift by the spring semester, in which the percentage of in-person classes will increase nearly to pre-pandemic standards. The plumbing department is working to make the bottle-filling stations and water fountains functional once more, but it’s uncertain how soon that will take effect.
Talk of future plans fail to address students who still have over a month and a half left in the fall term.
“Sometimes I’ll be on campus for hours and forget to bring my water bottle, or I’ll run out of water and the fountains don’t work,” said Chan. “On the days I’m here each week, I’m parched.”