“WeTap” Puts Drinking Fountains Back On The Map

Published On December 27, 2012 | By Hannah Ellsbury | Articles, New Product

Would you pay over 1,000 times more for something you could get for free? I didn’t think so, but that’s exactly what happens approximately 85 million times every day, as Americans consume water out of pre-packaged plastic bottles.

Drinking Fountain

Bottled water costs 750 to 2,700 times more than tap, but millions of people pay for the privilege of drinking what is essentially tap water. While their choices may instantly slake their thirsts, it is also sucking Mother Nature dry.

Environmental research non-profit Pacific Institute estimates that it took three liters of water to produce one liter of bottled water and the process of bottling the water produces more than 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide. That’s not even taking into consideration additional resources needed to transport the bottles by trucks, cool it in refrigerators or, ideally, even recycling it.

“We’re bombarded by advertisements that this or that water is wonderful or will make you sexier, smarter or more popular. Municipal agencies don’t have the money to do that,” said Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute who also wrote the book, “Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water.”

As a result, confidence in public water is waning, and with it, access to safe, free water. Over the years, drinking fountains have gradually faded from sight. While they can still be found tucked in corners or near bathrooms, even well meaning refillable bottle carriers sometimes experience anxiety at not easily finding one near their location.

Thankfully, they’re not yet extinct.

Challenge: find the nearest fountain

Enter WeTap into your phone. Launched in 2009 at the California Governor and First Lady Maria Shriver’s Women’s Conference, WeTap aims to put drinking fountains back on the map — literally — with the help of an app for Androids. Using GPS, the app points you to the nearest available drinking fountain. It also allows you to add locations of public drinking fountains to their database, including what repair or maintenance is needed.

WeTap founder Evelyn Wendel hopes someday, this first-ever comprehensive database will provide water agencies and other facility managers enough information to ensure availability and care for this overlooked amenity. “The departments of Recreation and Park and Public Works, they don’t have records of fountains. This could really benefit the cities,” said Wendel. Until now, there has been no systematic approach to keep track of which fountains need servicing.

Public water is clean water

The organization has a daunting task before them. Not only does it need to convince the public to use drink the fountains, it also needs to educate them about the public water’s safety. WeTap got support last spring when the Department of Water and Power (DWP) released a statement promoting the app, while also touching on water quality, but Wendel’s most convincing argument is the fact that public water is highly regulated, while bottled water regulation have more catching up to do.

“Our drinking water is tested at least a couple of thousand times a day,” said Jonathan Parfey, director of L.A.-based climate change organization, Climate Resolve and DWP commissioner. “Every reservoir, every distribution center, every area where there’s water flowing to the city, chemists go out there and conduct analyses on the water quality every single day.”

As required by the Safe Drinking Water Act, the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates public water. It requires testing by certified laboratories and mandatory disclosure of violations. If something goes wrong, the public is sure to know about it. In Los Angeles, DWP has taken steps to surpass even those federal expectations. “We go above and beyond,” said Parfey. “We do more testing than is legally required. We hold ourselves to a higher standard of providing even cleaner water than is required by law.”

On the other hand, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation over bottled water is often weaker than EPA’s over public water. FDA regulations exempt as much as 60 to 70 percent of bottled water from its set standards. There are also no federal or disinfection requirements for bottled water.

Faced with these facts, Wendel asks the public to choose between safe, free drinking water instead of overpriced bottled water. The answer seems a no-brainer, but as Los Angeles reclaims more green spaces in the city and along the river, it needs more people lining up at the fountains and adding to this drinking fountain database to prove we’re serious about our choices.

Help map drinking fountains here.

[KCET]

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5 Responses to “WeTap” Puts Drinking Fountains Back On The Map

  1. Myrtonos says:

    Here’s a question, over 1,000 times more for something if you could get better for free? The fact is that most people who buy bottled drinks drink not water but much more nutirtionally questionable sugary drinks. Two people are both drinking from the same kind of bottle, one is drinking bottled water and the other is drinking fizzy pop. The bottled water drinker promotes their water as a healthy alternative to the fizzy pop, but the fizzy pop drinker says that the water drinker could also get water from the drinking tap. Correct, but it follows that the fizzy pop drinker could also drink tapwater instead of the nutirtionally questionable fizzy pop. The fizzy pop drinker can justify using a bottle but sees the water drinker as wasting a bottle. If the other drinker were to also drink something other than (plain) water, however nutritionally questionable, then the fizzy pop drinker would not bother mentioning the impacts of plastic bottles, but the result is the same, spending money on a psatic bottle and then disposing it.

    • Hannah Ellsbury says:

      Thanks for the comment. We agree with you that both bottled water and fizzy pop plastic containers have detrimental effects on our health and environment. We would love to see all plastic bottles banned in the future. For now, we see taking smaller steps towards this end goal as more feasible.

  2. Diana Bihler says:

    Its the peoples right to decide how they get their water. If they want to pay to drink out of plastic bottles they have the right to do so unless they go to your town. Their is a wonderful word called recycle. Plastics that you deem evil save lives every day. Hope their is no disaster anytime soon and people need drinking water. Better have a glass jug and a pond near by. Obviously this sounds good to the uninformed voter . Moonbats run amuck

    • Hannah Ellsbury says:

      Hi Diana,

      Thanks for the comment. Recycling is an alternative to waste, yet, in turn, it is expensive and not many people do it.

  3. Tammy says:

    could canned water be the answer? I gave up Dt. Pepsi last year (it was harder than quitting smoking for 30 years). I really miss not grabbing a can of something to drink. I refuse to drink calories and I don’t want to go back to artificial sweeteners. I know people think drinking out of a can will taste tinny but cans are lined in plastic so that would be impossible. Cans are so much easier to recycle and fit so well in can holders in cars. So PLEASE is there a way to let the main manufacturers and distributors know that canned water might be worth a try?

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