Rice University
Rice Magazine| The Magazine of Rice University | No. 1 | 2008

Alumni Go Long to Keep Rice Water Pumping

It’s not often that you see football players turn into water boys, but it may be the most important play these two former Owls ever made for Rice.

It started when the city lost its pumping station at Trinity River, which feeds the water treatment plants in Houston. When water pressure started to drop on campus, Rice turned to its backup well, but the pump motor burned out during an electrical surge.

“It was never a drinking-water issue — we had plenty of bottled water,” said Kevin Kirby, vice president for administration. “We needed water for sanitary reasons, for toilets and showers. We needed water for the boilers so we could produce steam and hot water for cooking and cleaning. And we needed water to run the air-conditioning system — the chillers and the cooling tower. After the safety of our students and employees, water pressure turned out to be our biggest concern during this whole storm.”

Enter Rice Athletics Director Chris Del Conte. “I was in a conference call with the Crisis Management Team, and one of the things that came up was the well,” he said. “We needed a massive motor. My first thought was that trying to get water must be like trying to get oil, and we have a lot of former students working in the oil industry. If anybody knows how to get something from 1,600 feet underground, it would be those guys.”

Del Conte put in a phone call to former football players John Huff ’69 and Jay Collins ’68 of Oceaneering International Inc., a Houston company that supplies products to the offshore oil and gas industries. Collins succeeded Huff as president and CEO of the company in 2006.
The former Owls had a 2,500-pound motor assembly in Tennessee, and they wasted no time in making arrangements to get it to Rice. Two members of the Rice University Police Department, Jim Baylor and Niraj Rajbhandari, were dispatched to meet the delivery truck halfway, in Morgan City, La., to escort it to campus. It was installed soon after it arrived.