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Bring Back The Water Fountain

2012 February 14

By Nancy Stoner

Last summer I was walking through the French Quarter of New Orleans. It was a hot, steamy summer day and I was thirsty, so I looked for a water fountain. After several blocks of searching, I realized that while there is a bar on every corner, there are no drinking fountains in sight. The lack of public water fountains is not unique to New Orleans – water fountains have been disappearing from public spaces throughout the country over the last few decades. And with the loss of drinking fountains also comes a loss of public knowledge about the importance of investing in drinking water systems, which provide dependable, affordable and clean water.

Reinvigorating public water fountains provides a variety of benefits. They provide a service to residents and tourists who need a drink of clean water. They provide an alternative to sodas and other high-sugar drinks for children, both in schools and around town. When old, broken-down drinking fountains are restored it preserves historic relics of our cities.

Water fountains can also save money. The U.S. provides some of the highest quality tap water in the world at a very low cost to consumers. Municipalities work hard to provide this service, spending billions of dollars to provide clean tap water, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. On average, the cost to treat, filter and deliver tap water is 0.2 cents per gallon – roughly 750-2,700 times less expensive than bottled water. In spite of this cost difference, Americans drink around 30 gallons of bottled water per person per year. And with one estimate that 1,500 bottles of water are consumed in the U.S. every second, this is a huge amount going into the recycling and waste stream. Since cities bear the cost of collecting, transporting, recycling and land-filling plastic bottles, reducing this stream could save city resources.

Many cities are taking action. Minneapolis, New York City, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. are encouraging residents to drink tap water, in part by reinvigorating public water fountains. EPA is also working with mayors across the country through the U.S. Conference of Mayors to promote the value of public water fountains.

Growing up, many of us remember getting thirsty and finding the nearest drinking fountain. It’s time to reinvigorate and celebrate our public water system and the clean, safe drinking water we have. It’s time to bring back the water fountain.

About the author: Nancy Stoner is the Acting Assistant Administrator for the EPA’s Office of Water

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

16 Responses leave one →
  1. Jack Devereaux permalink
    February 14, 2012

    Atmospheric water generator are the future and one of our greatest selling product

  2. kiyohisa tanda permalink
    February 15, 2012

    “A fountain and the artificial pond” are not necessary for life by all means, but offer “healing”.
    A particle of the water from a fountain emits an ion, and a heart becomes calm.
    When we were depressed, the artificial pond with the fountain is necessary.
    Fontana di Trevi is different important existence.
    “The artificial pond with the fountain” is the index that a country is rich.
    I think so.

  3. Anonymous permalink
    February 15, 2012

    GERMS ???

  4. vickie hitchcock permalink
    February 15, 2012

    yeah, where are the public fountains? i think we’ve been systematically separated like dumb cows to the slaughter. anything that is for the benefit and use of ‘all of us’ has been labelled anti-capitalistic, anti-god, pro-socialism, I mean really! many people don’t have money to buy water and they shouldn’t have to anyway, frankly i refuse to buy bottled water myself. this should be a new top priority, give the people back free water!

  5. Joan permalink
    February 15, 2012

    Thanks for the post, Nancy. I’m a big advocate of plain old tap water. Drinking from a water fountain, a glass, or reusable water bottle is a super easy way to help the environment. And I hope my grandchildren learn from my example!

  6. Sheri permalink
    February 22, 2012

    Hmm, tap water. Most of the time it contains pharmaceuticals and hormones, which are not required to be removed by federal law. Bottled water manufacturers may use tap water in their processes, but usually it goes through additional treatment that does not take place at the local water treatment plant. If youv’e ever been around a distribution system when they are cleaning their lines and appurtenances you’d gag if you saw the ‘crap’ in tap water. We are fortunate at my house to ‘treat’ the incoming municipal water, it passes through an active carbon filter and drinking/cooking water goes through reverse osmosis treatment. I take it with me when I travel or leave the house. This is for my health and in the process I don’t have to buy bottled water very often.

    But, I am tired of all the disingenuous rhetoric about bottled water. Bottled water is a hundred times better than health damaging soda pop that people consume in mass quantities – which comes packaged in plastic. Why isn’t someone harping about that? I’ll take bottled water over tap water anyday thank you.

  7. Adam permalink
    February 22, 2012

    @vickie: I agree with you and the article that cities and towns should bring back the bubblers, I’d just like to point out that while accessing water at these points may be “free” for the user, to collect, treat and pump it costs the utility a lot of money.
    We should all value tap water more than we do. People in the developing world surely do. Thanks.

  8. Berkwarner permalink
    February 22, 2012

    I live in a place where you can (and I do) still drink from the streams. Can you imagine? Mmmmm, good.

  9. Gautam Patel permalink
    February 25, 2012

    Hear ,it is not question of water or soda.How one can takeon soda
    over water.water is water and soda is soda.Botteled water ruined our environment impliedly not only that but it has destroyed our immunity to different dieses.And as whole 90%people have no bother for tap water if it save a ‘even’little to our enviornment.

  10. chs permalink
    March 2, 2012

    I’m all for public drinking fountains, especially ones with a design (tap) where you can easily fill a reusable water bottle as well. But what about the ones like in Portland, Oregon, that run constantly? Isn’t that a waste of water?

  11. Vivian Spencer permalink
    March 20, 2012

    Although I agree with the article, bottled water also has severe environmental implications. “Water Folllies” by Robert Glennon contains several cases where the pumping of “spring” groundwater for bottled water has resulted in the devastation of rivers, streams and aquatic life, resulting in limited oppportunities for sport fishing. Bottled water generates more profits than automobiles or oil. Localities often allow bottling companies to come in to create employment and generate economic development.

  12. March 20, 2012

    I am really glad to see this post from Nancy Stoner from the EPA’s Office of Water. Thank you Nancy, much appreciated.

    Sheri’s concern for safe water would be necessary, if she is in one of those countries where tap water is not free of contaminants and living organisms. But U.S. is not one of those countries, (not yet at least).

    However, if more number of people opt out of public water system and go for bottled water, there will be less rationale for investing public money in better water purification and water distribution systems, and less demand from the public for better performance and accountability from the water providers. Both of these can lead to a situation where people will be forced to depend on cleaning their own water, as sheri does. A real danger as our water systems as really old.

    Incidentally Sheri, you are better off cleaning your own water than depending on bottled water. The tap water in the US is better regulated (with each consumer receiving regular score cards on the quality of water), while bottled water is not as well regulated.

    The only thing that goes in favor of bottled water is convenience: of buying when you need water, and throwing the bottle away. When you walk for hours without finding a public source for water, it is indeed tempting to buy a bottle of water, if you do not have your own water. But public water taps at regular intervals with a spout that is suitable for filling a reusable container could easily solve this problem of convenience. Thus my appreciation for this blog. (Now you see why people in Minneapolis supported this).

    However for many individuals personal convenience comes before civic responsibility (eg: not spitting or urinating in public place, not using/ throwing plastic bottles away on a regular basis), and this blog will not make a difference to thos people.

    But for others worried about the safety about public water, coming from an EPA employee, this blog should provide reassurance about the quality of water we get from our public water systems. Or may be Nancy or someone else from EPA could write another blog about the different types of regulations in place for ensuring the safety of tap water vs. bottled water. It could also include a note on the quality that public water systems in the U.S. strive to maintain.

    One last point to support @chs: whether public or private, wasting water, especially such as in the form of constantly running water fountains that loses a lot of water to evaporation (even when it is in the form of public art or it is in the lobby of a corporate building) is a crime given the amount of resources, including energy that goes for purifying it. Such practices should be discouraged, by withholding permits, except for having it run as a closed looped system, or to be run only when the temperature of the atmosphere is same as that of water, thus reducing water loss to evaporation.

  13. Angie g. permalink
    March 23, 2012

    When I was in Idaho this summer one of the ski resorts had a public fountain that was set up to fill water bottles. Each time a water bottle was filled is had an LED display that said XX number of water bottles had been diverted from area landfills…Loved it!

  14. Sandy permalink
    July 7, 2012

    Water is a natural resource that should be available free. Those who believe bottled water is better are free to make that choice. My concern is that as public fountains vanish – I have NO choice but to buy bottled water – even though I prefer the good old American tap water

  15. July 24, 2012

    I support public water fountain but some of them are so unsightly that one is afraid of germs from them. I carry filtered water in a stainless steel water bottle, so does everyone in my home.

    Bottled water could cost over $1000 a year for those that depend on it and they may not realize it. That’s the cash that should be in their savings account. But again, public water fountain will be preferred if they are well maintained.

  16. Elegant Ground Water Features permalink
    May 27, 2013

    I love water fountains but since we can’t afford a really massive one in the yard, a couple of tabletop water features will do :) I got them installed in the living room and the bedroom because it helps me relax :)

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