Peter Gleick: Time for a Drinking Water Fountain Renaissance

One of the reasons for the explosive growth in the sales of bottled water in the past two decades (the average American now drinks nearly 30 gallons of commercial bottled water per year, up from 1 gallon in 1980), is the disappearance of public drinking water fountains.

Peter Gleick
Dr. Peter Gleick is president of the Pacific Institute, an internationally recognized water expert and a MacArthur Fellow.

In a recent Huffington Post piece and in the book Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water, I recount the disappearance of public water from major sports venues, such as the new stadium at Central Florida University (built with no water fountains at all), the removal of water fountains by the sports arena that hosts the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the efforts by the University of Michigan at their 100,000 seat stadium to restrict water to a small number of fountains and sales of bottled water from their own commercial vendors.

It is time for a revival of our public drinking water fountains. And some people are getting the message:

A fancy new water fountain has just been installed in London’s Hyde Park as part of a revival there.

The French public water company Eau de Paris has just built their first water fountain dispensing sparkling water (with carbon dioxide injected into it for bubbles). They call it “la petillante” (she who sparkles). They took the idea from the Italians, who have installed a couple of hundred fountains of the same type in northern Italy.


Photo: Peter Gleick 2010
Water fountain in Florence, Italy.

And a new law requiring schools in California to have free drinking water available in cafeterias is awaiting the signature of Governor Schwarzenegger, who is likely to sign it since he sponsored it. The bill is Senator Mark Leno’s SB1413 and says “a school district shall provide access to free, fresh drinking water during meal times in the food service areas of the schools under its jurisdiction.” The Governor should sign immediately.

But wait a minute: free drinking water ISN’T available in all of our school cafeterias?? We have to pass a LAW requiring that free water be made available to children in lunchrooms? Apparently. Try getting some libertarian or Tea Partier to provide a rational explanation for why the provision of safe water (or cleaning up wastewater) should be left entirely to the private sector or markets. I haven’t been able to get one. Apparently, around 40% of all schools in California don’t have drinking water available for students at lunch. High-quality fountains or modern “hydration stations” should be installed in every school cafeteria immediately — good ones that chill the water, perhaps have filters, and can be used for drinking directly or refilling cups and reusable bottles.

Peter Gleick

Dr. Gleick’s blog posts are provided in cooperation with the SFGate. Previous posts can be found here.