Water Stations – Are They Really the Best Options?

People fill up their water bottles at the Fourth of July Celebration at Community Park
People fill up their water bottles at the Fourth of July Celebration at Community Park

By Michelle Millet

My first response this past Friday when my family and I arrived at Community Park to watch the fireworks and spotted an Aero Pure Water Station was to think what a great idea. The water trailer provided 8 self-fill stations that, according to their website, had enough water to fill 4,000 half-liter sport bottles. At first this seemed to me a great environmentally friendly alternative to disposable water bottles.

But something about it just didn’t sit right with me, and it took me almost 24 hours to realize exactly what it was, which is this:  How and when did we get to the point where the environmentally friendly option for providing water becomes loading it into a trailer and hauling it 40 miles to place that already has access to perfectly safe drinking water?

I tried to think back to when I was my kids’ age and remember how I managed to stay hydrated without access to single use plastic bottles or water trailer filling stations. If I’m remembering correctly, I think it may have involved water fountains or just not having water available at every moment. When did this change and how did it get to the point where Americans used 50 billion plastic water bottles last year?  And why, when we have access to safe public drinking water, are people willing to spend up to 1000 times more for bottled water?

One of the top reasons people give for drinking bottled water instead of tap water is that they believe it is safer. In reality, this is not true.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, which carried out a four-year review of the bottled water industry, concluded, “There is no assurance that just because water comes out of a bottle, it is any cleaner or safer than water from the tap.”

In a lot of ways, bottled water is less regulated then tap water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which sets the standard for tap water, requires that municipalities have their water tested every year by a third party certified laboratory and that the tests be made available to the public.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates bottled water. Because it regulates bottled water as food, it cannot require certified lab testing or violation reporting. The FDA does not require bottled water companies to disclose to consumers where the water came from, how it has been treated or what contaminants it contains.  Furthermore, FDA rules do not apply to water packaged and sold within the same state.

Bottled water started to become popular in the U.S. in 1977 when Perrier was introduced to urban areas. It remained a niche product until the early 90′s when bottles made from PET plastic, which was lightweight, cheap and clear became available. It was at this time that Coke and Pepsi got into the business of selling water. Ironically, Coke’s water, Dasani, and Pepsi’s water, Aquafina, the number one and two bestselling brands, originate from municipal supplies.

Many blame the marketing efforts of these two companies for the sharp increase in popularity of bottled water. They are reported to have spent tens of millions of dollars on advertising, pushing their product as a safer, tastier, purer alternative to tap.

When I was 10, my daughter’s age now, I did not carry a water bottle around with me everywhere I went. My mom did not pack one in my lunch and I didn’t take one to summer camp. I don’t remember this being an issue. If I was thirsty in public, I drank from a water fountain – an option that has become increasingly unavailable over the past 20 years.

I would like to see us get back to the place where the environmentally friendly option for providing “free” water at public events is one that does not require it to be shipped in a truck 40 miles, but instead comes from clean, well maintained, functional water fountains.  No bottle – reusable or not – required.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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44 Comments

  1. Mr. Toad

    This is just an example of the unintended consequences of good intentions. Someone bought me a beer at the fireworks show it came in a disposable plastic cup. Last year when it was really hot i was told I could buy a soda but not a bottle of water. Since it was dark and I had no idea where to find water nor did I bring a container I bought a soda. Please don’t tell my doctor. There is a public safety issue here but I guess environmental concerns trump public safety in Davis. On the day of the year that could easily have the highest average temperature in Davis, the fourth of July, the city council has seen fit to impose restrictions on the distribution and sale of one of the most fundamental commodities needed for life. I get what they are trying to do but it seems that there should be an exemption on this particular day. The place is crowded, the activity is after dark and the lights are turned off. In fact I have never seen this water truck that brings water how far? Adding how much carbon to the atmosphere?

    At celebrate Davis someone was giving out bottles of water now there is a solution to the prohibition against selling water in a bottle. Only problem is it doesn’t reduce the number of bottles used.

    When it is hot people need to drink lots of water to prevent heat stroke. Only in a place like Davis would they institute a policy that would deter a crowd of people from drinking water in the heat of summer increasing their risk of heat stroke in pursuit of environmental purity. Of many stupid ideas, fireplace banning, containerized yard waste, overpriced double decker trash cans this has got to be the dumbest.

    1. Barack Palin

      Totally agree Toad. I think a water station with many thousands of people in attendance was a good idea. I can’t imagine how many would be complaining if people started falling from heat stroke or dehydration.

      1. South of Davis

        BP wrote:

        > I can’t imagine how many would be complaining if people started
        > falling from heat stroke or dehydration.

        In Davis we would probably build a monument to the dead as they died helping us avoid using evil plastic water bottles…

  2. Mr. Toad

    This is just an example of the unintended consequences of good intentions. Someone bought me a beer at the fireworks show it came in a disposable plastic cup. Last year when it was really hot i was told I could buy a soda but not a bottle of water. Since it was dark and I had no idea where to find water nor did I bring a container I bought a soda. Please don’t tell my doctor. There is a public safety issue here but I guess environmental concerns trump public safety in Davis. On the day of the year that could easily have the highest average temperature in Davis, the fourth of July, the city council has seen fit to impose restrictions on the distribution and sale of one of the most fundamental commodities needed for life. I get what they are trying to do but it seems that there should be an exemption on this particular day. The place is crowded, the activity is after dark and the lights are turned off. In fact I have never seen this water truck that brings water how far? Adding how much carbon to the atmosphere?

    At celebrate Davis someone was giving out bottles of water now there is a solution to the prohibition against selling water in a bottle. Only problem is it doesn’t reduce the number of bottles used.

    When it is hot people need to drink lots of water to prevent heat stroke. Only in a place like Davis would they institute a policy that would deter a crowd of people from drinking water in the heat of summer increasing their risk of heat stroke in pursuit of environmental purity. Of many stupid ideas, fireplace banning, containerized yard waste, overpriced double decker trash cans this has got to be the dumbest.

    1. Barack Palin

      Totally agree Toad. I think a water station with many thousands of people in attendance was a good idea. I can’t imagine how many would be complaining if people started falling from heat stroke or dehydration.

      1. South of Davis

        BP wrote:

        > I can’t imagine how many would be complaining if people started
        > falling from heat stroke or dehydration.

        In Davis we would probably build a monument to the dead as they died helping us avoid using evil plastic water bottles…

  3. Tia Will

    Mr. Toad

    “There is a public safety issue here but I guess environmental concerns trump public safety in Davis.”

    So what would you suggest as the best balance between the two goals of public safety and environmental concerns ?

    I personally feel that the provision of adequate water fountains throughout our public spaces is the best solution.
    This is not environmentally as damaging as are plastic water bottles and is a “plain vanilla” tried and true solution as Brett Lee seems to prefer. Given the ongoing provision of water rather than driving a large vehicle for a single event, it is much more cost effective and environmental friendly than are the water trucks.

    Of course, if one waits until it is already dark to decide that they need water, none of these solutions would work since one would still have to navigate through the dark to any water source thus creating through their own short sightedness, not city policy, a safety hazard.

  4. Tia Will

    Mr. Toad

    “There is a public safety issue here but I guess environmental concerns trump public safety in Davis.”

    So what would you suggest as the best balance between the two goals of public safety and environmental concerns ?

    I personally feel that the provision of adequate water fountains throughout our public spaces is the best solution.
    This is not environmentally as damaging as are plastic water bottles and is a “plain vanilla” tried and true solution as Brett Lee seems to prefer. Given the ongoing provision of water rather than driving a large vehicle for a single event, it is much more cost effective and environmental friendly than are the water trucks.

    Of course, if one waits until it is already dark to decide that they need water, none of these solutions would work since one would still have to navigate through the dark to any water source thus creating through their own short sightedness, not city policy, a safety hazard.

    1. Tia Will

      Michelle

      I love some of these designs. One issue I can see with the “bottle filler” only model is that it is great if you happen to have brought your own reusable bottle. Not so great if you are reusing a plastic bottle ( although still better than single use) or if the problem is that you have forgotten to bring any bottle. I especially like the bottle filler + fountain design, just right for we forgetful seniors ! If they would combine this with the doggy bowl filler, we would be covered on all fronts.

      1. Michelle Millet

        Tia-There is a great global tap fountain at Central Park, near the bathroom. It has “bottle filler” and a more traditional water fountain. I would love to see more of them around town.

        1. Tia Will

          Biddlin

          “Definitely a first tier, first world problem.”

          Well, they may be first world problems…..but they are our problems.
          Would that the whole world had our problems to ponder.

    1. Tia Will

      Michelle

      I love some of these designs. One issue I can see with the “bottle filler” only model is that it is great if you happen to have brought your own reusable bottle. Not so great if you are reusing a plastic bottle ( although still better than single use) or if the problem is that you have forgotten to bring any bottle. I especially like the bottle filler + fountain design, just right for we forgetful seniors ! If they would combine this with the doggy bowl filler, we would be covered on all fronts.

      1. Michelle Millet

        Tia-There is a great global tap fountain at Central Park, near the bathroom. It has “bottle filler” and a more traditional water fountain. I would love to see more of them around town.

        1. Tia Will

          Biddlin

          “Definitely a first tier, first world problem.”

          Well, they may be first world problems…..but they are our problems.
          Would that the whole world had our problems to ponder.

  5. Barack Palin

    Since the City doesn’t allow sales of bottled water on public property this was a great idea for a huge event in which thousands (tens of thousands?) of people attended. During normal park operations I’m sure that the fountains in place would suffice, but for big events like July 4 bringing in a water station was totally reasonable by the City. To me this qualifies as an “only in Davis”. Only in Davis would someone complain that the city brought in a water station on a hot day for the many thousands of spectators because it didn’t fit their environmental views.

    1. Michelle Millet

      I’m not complaining just noticing the cultural shift that has happened. How was this problem dealt with 20 years ago? I really can’t remember.

      1. Tia Will

        “How was this problem dealt with 20 years ago ?”

        As I recall, going back 40 or so years, it was a combination of water fountains and what were at that time called thermoses.

  6. Barack Palin

    Since the City doesn’t allow sales of bottled water on public property this was a great idea for a huge event in which thousands (tens of thousands?) of people attended. During normal park operations I’m sure that the fountains in place would suffice, but for big events like July 4 bringing in a water station was totally reasonable by the City. To me this qualifies as an “only in Davis”. Only in Davis would someone complain that the city brought in a water station on a hot day for the many thousands of spectators because it didn’t fit their environmental views.

    1. Michelle Millet

      I’m not complaining just noticing the cultural shift that has happened. How was this problem dealt with 20 years ago? I really can’t remember.

      1. Tia Will

        “How was this problem dealt with 20 years ago ?”

        As I recall, going back 40 or so years, it was a combination of water fountains and what were at that time called thermoses.

  7. jrberg

    I did volunteer duty at the fireworks. I brought a lot of water from home on my bicycle, in devices known as “water bottles,” which I’ve used for over 50 years. They are reusable, too. As people in the Navy used to say, forewarned is forearmed.

  8. jrberg

    I did volunteer duty at the fireworks. I brought a lot of water from home on my bicycle, in devices known as “water bottles,” which I’ve used for over 50 years. They are reusable, too. As people in the Navy used to say, forewarned is forearmed.

  9. Mr. Toad

    Yes I brought a bottle of ice water with me this year but I bet someone else didn’t and of course there is always beer and soda that obviously must be the preferred choices of the city council. Grabbed the water at the last minute and I was the only one of the seven of us to do so. I get what they are trying to do but the fourth of July is the wrong day to get all dogmatic about how people get their water. As for getting there at dark it is not unusual for people to get somewhere after dark for an event that starts after dark.

    1. Michelle Millet

      the fourth of July is the wrong day to get all dogmatic about how people get their water.

      I think the fact that we trucked water in from 40 miles away when we have access to clean drinking water is representational of the cultural shift regarding water that has taken place over the past 20 years. Before the 1990’s bottled water was not really an accessible alternative. Somehow people managed to survive.

      1. Mr. Toad

        In the 1960’s we had a water cooler in L. A. We bought it from Arrowhead Water who deliver it in 5 gallon bottles. They trucked it from somewhere. The water from the tap in LA came from the Owens River. It was transported hundred of miles.

        1. Tia Will

          Mr. Toad

          You have hit upon the heart of this issue. Those who came before us chose to build in locations that would not support the water needs of their population from local supplies. Thus the need to transport water long distances.

          When a population outstrips the carrying capacity and resources immediately available to it, it must seek further and further afield to meet its needs. This pattern of growth has caused many of our current problems of water supply, food distribution and is largely responsible for much of our pollution problems.

          When you argue for rapid population growth, what I see is not a NIMBY town trying to protect property values, but rather a community that recognizes that uncontrolled, unplanned growth is not healthy and needlessly constrains the choices of future generations by developing all of their potential resources in ways that we benefit from, but which they may not. To me this is a failure of imagination. A failure to envision a future that might not be locked in by what we consider the norm but might be built according to the preferences of those future generations who may see the world very differently from us.

  10. Mr. Toad

    Yes I brought a bottle of ice water with me this year but I bet someone else didn’t and of course there is always beer and soda that obviously must be the preferred choices of the city council. Grabbed the water at the last minute and I was the only one of the seven of us to do so. I get what they are trying to do but the fourth of July is the wrong day to get all dogmatic about how people get their water. As for getting there at dark it is not unusual for people to get somewhere after dark for an event that starts after dark.

    1. Michelle Millet

      the fourth of July is the wrong day to get all dogmatic about how people get their water.

      I think the fact that we trucked water in from 40 miles away when we have access to clean drinking water is representational of the cultural shift regarding water that has taken place over the past 20 years. Before the 1990’s bottled water was not really an accessible alternative. Somehow people managed to survive.

      1. Mr. Toad

        In the 1960’s we had a water cooler in L. A. We bought it from Arrowhead Water who deliver it in 5 gallon bottles. They trucked it from somewhere. The water from the tap in LA came from the Owens River. It was transported hundred of miles.

        1. Tia Will

          Mr. Toad

          You have hit upon the heart of this issue. Those who came before us chose to build in locations that would not support the water needs of their population from local supplies. Thus the need to transport water long distances.

          When a population outstrips the carrying capacity and resources immediately available to it, it must seek further and further afield to meet its needs. This pattern of growth has caused many of our current problems of water supply, food distribution and is largely responsible for much of our pollution problems.

          When you argue for rapid population growth, what I see is not a NIMBY town trying to protect property values, but rather a community that recognizes that uncontrolled, unplanned growth is not healthy and needlessly constrains the choices of future generations by developing all of their potential resources in ways that we benefit from, but which they may not. To me this is a failure of imagination. A failure to envision a future that might not be locked in by what we consider the norm but might be built according to the preferences of those future generations who may see the world very differently from us.

  11. Biddlin

    “But something about it just didn’t sit right with me, and it took me almost 24 hours to realize exactly what it was, which is this: How and when did we get to the point where the environmentally friendly option for providing water becomes loading it into a trailer and hauling it 40 miles to place that already has access to perfectly safe drinking water?”
    You spent 24 hours pondering this? Definitely a first tier, first world problem. lol
    http://assets.inhabitat.com/wp-content/uploads/lifestraw.jpeg
    ;>)/

  12. Biddlin

    “But something about it just didn’t sit right with me, and it took me almost 24 hours to realize exactly what it was, which is this: How and when did we get to the point where the environmentally friendly option for providing water becomes loading it into a trailer and hauling it 40 miles to place that already has access to perfectly safe drinking water?”
    You spent 24 hours pondering this? Definitely a first tier, first world problem. lol
    http://assets.inhabitat.com/wp-content/uploads/lifestraw.jpeg
    ;>)/

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