Bring Back The Water Fountain

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