In Support of Drinking Fountains

When Perrier introduced bottled water to the United States in the 1970’s, many people thought it was a joke. Why would anyone spend money on water when it flowed out of our taps for free? Perrier advertising claims it’s sexy, but who buys that? Apparently, plenty of people do. Today the average American drinks 39.3 gallons of bottled water per year. Sales of bottled water climbed 9% from 2014 to 2015 and this upward trajectory shows no signs of bottoming out. Chris Hogan, of the International Bottled Water Association, says that bottled water has an “undeniable appeal.” He doesn’t claim bottled water is sexy, but he does say it’s healthy, convenient, reliable, safe and has zero calories.

Yet our tap water is safe. We have strict national standards for contaminants in public drinking water thanks to the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974. All consumers of publicly supplied water are mailed annual water quality reports so we know exactly what is in our water. Americans should not take clean, safe drinking water for granted. Compared to the rest of the world, America’s tap water is remarkably safe. One out of four people in the world doesn’t have a safe source of water. This one-fourth has to drink bottled water or risk coming down with a host of nasty diseases including diarrhea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and polio.

Tap water is healthy, and it also, of course it, has zero calories. Tap water used to be convenient and reliable too. We used to be able to find clean, working water fountains in public places. But as bottled water has become the norm, maintenance on water fountains is no longer a priority. Water fountains fall into disrepair and are removed rather than fixed. Today, municipalities and businesses often don’t install water fountains in new parks, public spaces and stadiums, and this is neither convenient nor safe.

In 2007, the University of Central Florida built a 45,000 seat football stadium without any drinking fountains. Why let fans drink for free when concessions can sell bottles of water for $3? The stadium was packed for its inaugural football game in September. It was 97 degrees, and the concessions ran out of bottled water. Eighteen people were rushed to the hospital with heat exhaustion, and many more were treated by medics in the stadium. It took a lot of angry fans and students, but now the UCF stadium has water fountains.

If public drinking fountains become clean, working and plentiful again, the advantages of bottled water over tap water will disappear. After all, the disadvantage of bottled water over top water is clear enough – the plastic bottles. Three hundred million people in the United States drink a bottle of water every day. Some of these bottles and caps are recycled, but the vast majority of plastic we discard (79%) piles up in our landfills and natural environments.

Empty bottles and caps everywhere, including on our beaches and in our oceans. What’s a beach lover to do? Bring along a reusable water bottle filled with good, clean tap water. Ask your town to make public water fountains a priority again. Pick up those discarded bottles and caps next time you’re at the beach and keep them out of the ocean. BlueTube can help.