Thursday, May 24, 2012

Are Public Drinking Fountains Disappearing?

Am I losing my mind?

Maybe it's just my addled memory but I seem to recall public drinking fountains being everywhere when I was a kid. Every school, every park, every playground, every public building - everywhere had a drinking fountain.

Nowadays they seem to be in much scarcer supply.

So what happened? Why have they disappeared?  Was it the insane rise of the bottled water movement that simply drove down demand?  Was it fears of communicable disease?  Were they purposely removed so as to encourage concession and vending machine sales?

Or is it just all in my head?

I know I have readers from all over the world. Would love to hear if your public drinking fountains are going the way of the dodo too. Have you noticed their removal?

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  1. We had some in gym class but I can't recall I've ever seen one outdoors in Sweden.

    I made some research and found this:

    “I have no scientific studies that would lead me to avoid drinking fountains,” Leedom says. “However, unscientific personal observations, particularly of children at drinking fountains, convince me that considerable mouth-washing, spitting and gargling is routine. It might not be dangerous, but it is not appetizing.”

    I guess that's part of it. When people grow older they avoid using it since they can drink at home, bring water with them or just buy it somewhere. Therefore no one reacts when they remove drinking fountains. We have to remember that they cost to build, repair and just keep it in business. If no one reacts, they simply stop building them.

  2. They have become as rare as pay phones and for the same reasons: Everyone is carrying it with them, so why bother to pay to install one and maintain it.

    I suspect it's partly the hygienic concerns over sharing a fountain, but I also think it's a misplaced distrust of tap water -- which, of course, is at the root of the bottled water phenomenon in the first place.

  3. At my university, there has been a strong student movement in the last few years to attempt to ban bottled water on campus and make sure every building has accessible water fountains with a water bottle filing spout. It's great that this has been relatively successful, but it seems to be the only place around town doing it.

  4. Fear of litigation: someone might trip over the fountain and sue. Or claim they or their dog got sick from it. Sigh.

  5. Anonymous8:47 am

    Public water fountains are as disgusting as public toilets. I'm not sad to see them go. People dont have any regard for them and make them filthy. At least they do in my neighborhood. The ones at the local park are gone. What's wrong with buying a reusable water bottle & carrying that?? I wash mine out every night & refill it with good ol' tap water. I recently bought one for my dad because he would buy a lot of bottled water.

    1. So when i drink all the water i brought from home in my re-useable water bottle and I'm still thirsty, then what?

    2. Anonymous8:54 pm

      The poster isn't saying YOU shouldn't drink from the public fountains. He/she finds them disgusting. If you want to use them, go ahead. More power to you!

      And if you're really that concerned about still being thirsty, buy a bigger bottle or carry multiples. Is it really that difficult????

  6. Anonymous8:50 am

    I only look for them when I'm travelling because I do bring my own water bottle but then need to refill it throughout the day. I was usually able to find public fountains in parks or town squares when travelling in Italy (2010 and 2011). I was just in Montreal last weekend (it was terribly hot) and in about 15 minutes I witnessed at least 1/2 a dozen different people refilling their water bottles at a fountain inside the food court area next to the Science Centre. I think they have them in the ONRoute rest stops along the 401 as well, which is helpful on road trips. The elementary schools in my area also have them, but not sure about high school. Some school boards are banning plastic water bottles, so they are obligated to provide fountains as a source of water for students to drink.

  7. Last year during my undergraduate program in Applied Human Nutrition as a part of a paper I was writing I did an informal walk around survey trying to locate public assessable drinking fountains on 2 university campuses here in Halifax. The results were telling in that one university had 4 and the other 9. There may have been others tucked away in hard to find places but I did physically walk all the open (to public) areas of all buildings on both campuses. Both campuses have been promoting themselves as being green and both have been slowly implementing anti bottle water education programs. Universally the answer given when questioned as to lack of availability of water fountains has been there are plenty of washrooms and people can fill up water bottles from the sinks.

    Based on the state of most public accessible washrooms I would rather go thirsty than drink from a washroom sink tap.

    There is slow progress at the university level but it seems to be a losing battle in other public spaces. In Bedford NS they have a relatively new (1 Year old or so) 4-plex arena which has 0 water fountains. It was in the local news a couple of weeks back when someone complained. (the reply was they could either have players fill their water bottles in the dressing rooms for them or buy from the canteen). The builders and the organization running the facility are more concerned with concession stand profits than providing access to tap water for the public.

  8. You might enjoy Peter H. Gleick, Bottled & Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession With Bottled Water. He does cover the fountain issue and it's a very good read if you like well-founded rants (which I do).

  9. I've definitely noticed a decline. There are fewer of them, and they're not maintained as well.

    I think it's all of the above: The increased marketing of bottled water probably stoked fears about tap water and drinking fountains, driving down usage. And people started carrying refillable water bottles everywhere.

    Meanwhile, governments and institutions everywhere have been cutting back on spending as much as possible, and I suspect the installation and maintenance of drinking fountains was seen by many as unnecessary -- especially when said fountains are in competition with the vending machines you're making money from!

    My university has banned bottled-water sales and has in their place installed machines that will refill your reusable bottle with UV-disinfected (?) water. Of course, you have to pay for that water... or fill up your bottle in the bathroom, which feels kind of gross.

    Tip: If your reusable water bottle is empty, you can go into a McDonald's and get it refilled at no charge, with or without ice, without purchasing anything, as long as it's not during the lunch rush. At least, you could in the past, back when I worked at one. (We even filled campers' coolers with ice). I suspect other fast-food and coffee chains do the same.

  10. Anonymous11:38 am

    In Arizona, water fountains are found near every public restroom and are scattered through parks and other outdoor spaces. It may be that our danger of people dying from lack of water (two this past week) is so high that it trumps the hazards and concession stand profits issues.

  11. Anonymous12:10 pm

    With regards to buildings, I have to disagree. In the USA, the quantity of public drinking fountains is governed by local Building Codes. The quantity required depends on they type of building and size which defines the maximum number of occupants. Without doing extensive research on prior versions of code, my impression over my architecture career of 25 years is that the number of drinking fountains required by code has increased rather than decreased. I think this is somewhat due to providing accessible fountains to meet requirements in The Americans with Disability act which went into effect in the early '90s.

  12. I am an architect in Canada, they are not required by code here. Clients no longer want them because maintenance budgets have been drastically reduced, maintenance is outsourced to infrequent night time cleanings, so drinking fountains sit unused and unusable because people spit in them and there is no one to clean it for a week .

  13. We were just visiting New York, and checked out the (relatively new) High Line park. I was pleased to see at least one drinking fountain. That same fountain also had a speaker in it, broadcasting the message of "Please do not lick the drinking fountain." :)

  14. does anyone watch parks & recreation?? :)

  15. Anonymous3:35 pm

    I am so glad you posted this Dr. Freedhoff, because I had recently been noticing the same phenomenon here in AB. I am a runner, but unless I am running more than 10km I generally don't carry a water bottle on me. Regardless, it would be nice to see a water fountain along the paths for those hot days when you just need a drink. I used to live in SK and there were always water fountains in our parks there.

    Probably a totally different issue, but I have also noticed a decline in the number of public washrooms along running/walking paths... something that would also be much appreciated when you're nowhere near a restaurant and nature calls!

  16. Anonymous3:04 pm

    There are a fair number of them here (Quebec City) outdoors in public parks and along bike/walking paths. They're only operational 6 months of the year though, due to weather. Even my local shopping mall has a couple of water fountains located outside the washrooms.

  17. Anonymous8:59 am

    There are heaps of them around uni and along the river in Brisbane as well as throughout the hospitals (I'm not really game to drink from those ones even though my rational mind says they must be ok as the hospital wouldn't have them if they spread germs)

  18. Anonymous5:27 am

    We never had them in my country and people do not walk around with bottles. Since a couple of years some buildings have water coolers with cups for free. But since I see people fill a used water bottle from those, I will not use them, as the mouth of the bottle has touched the tap. So even refilling a bottle is disgusting IMO.

  19. NYC has a campaign to highlight the local water quality, and will set up "bottle filling stations" in parks around the city.

    Otherwise, I have seen private spaces have bottle filling stations, but I havent seen, nor would I use a public drinking fountain.

  20. Pittsburgh, PA, USA here - never had trouble finding a drinking fountain. They're in the big-box stores, malls, parks, etc. I also bring an empty water bottle to the airport when I travel, and never have trouble finding a fountain to fill it. Where is it that you expect to see fountains and don't anymore?

    I was surprised to see a water bottle filling station (with filtered water) next to the 2 water fountains at our neighborhood's new Whole Foods. Neat!

    You can call 'em disgusting, I'll take my water anywhere I can find it.

  21. Outside of Boston, MA, but also my experience near Hartford, CT: The water fountains in parks were vandalized repeatedly, and eventually the cities stopped repairing them.

    The park near my house in CT used to have tow ropes for a skiing hill, too. Those were also lost to vandalism.

  22. Anonymous9:27 pm

    My 3 year old plays t ball at a large outdoor complex. The park has strict rules against bringing in outside food or drink - including bottled water - because the space is funded by concession sales. There is not a single water fountain on the grounds. This seems hazardous when young children are playing ball in 95 degree weather!

  23. I just like that this post began with "Am I loosing my mind?"

  24. Anonymous12:12 am

    That's because, in case no one's noticed, Obama and his crones have made essential things that used to be free, expensive and illegal. Water is increasingly costly, clean air is scarcer and scarcer, healthy food also is increasingly costly..