OWASA considers bold initiative on water

Chapel Hill Herald, Saturday September 03, 2005

Thursday night, the OWASA board of directors will consider a proposal to launch a campaign promoting OWASA water as an alternative to imported bottled water. As well as highlighting the value of low-cost, high-quality OWASA water, the project also could involve educating residents on the global problems of water privatization as well as the solid waste, transportation and other environmental costs stemming from the bottled water industry.

The upcoming discussion is in response to a petition from the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and the Peace & Justice Committee of the Community Church.

According to WILPF, "Water is the earth's most precious resource. Access to safe and affordable water is a human right. Local, democratic control of water is essential for food security and peace. Everywhere accelerating privatization threatens public control over access to water while scarcity looms from overuse and pollution."

As an international women's organization, WILPF is particularly sensitive to the impact of water shortages and privatization on the lives of women, especially in developing nations.

Here in the OWASA service area, however, we are fortunate to have an abundant source of fresh, healthful water. This is because several generations of leaders have developed our reservoirs and protected the surrounding watersheds. Although we can always do better, Orange County governments have some of the best water protection regulations anywhere in the state. A major foundation of these efforts has been the election to public office of watershed activists like Ellie Kinnaird, Allen Spalt and Margaret Brown.

It is only occasionally in today's news, but there will be a water crisis facing humanity in the not too distant future. And in many places it is already here. Many nations face problems with their water supply, with tragic consequences for public health.

It is estimated that more than a billion people do not have a source for clean water within a 15-minute walk. Control of water is creating tension between states and among nations. Wars over water may become one characteristic of the 21st century.

In the United States, many consumers are not aware that tap water must conform to Environmental Protection Agency regulations, while bottled water is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. A 2001 study commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund found that FDA rules for bottled water were less stringent than EPA rules for tap water -- bottled water regulations called for less-frequent testing and didn't ban phthalates -- a liquid compound -- or fecal coliforms.

Studies have found that as much as 40 percent of bottled water is actually tap water, sometimes with additional treatment, sometimes not. In a four-year study published in 1999, the Natural Resources Defense Council tested 103 brands of bottled water and found that one-third had levels of chemical or bacterial contaminants that exceeded state or industry standards.

Many may ask why this is OWASA's business. Shouldn't it focus on the job of providing local drinking water? The answer has both a practical and a moral component.

If southern Orange County is committed philosophically and practically to maintaining a public water supply then it behooves us to encourage a national and global economy of water that supports that decision. Promoting its product over alternatives is a standard business practice.

From a moral standpoint, safeguarding public water supplies is rapidly taking on a global dimension comparable to the struggles to ban landmines, outlaw child labor or end apartheid. Take South Africa as an example.

There, according to waterjustice.org, "the collective impact of water privatization has been devastating. The desperate search for any available source of water has resulted in cholera outbreaks that have claimed the lives of hundreds and sickened hundreds of thousands more. Additionally, inadequate hygiene has led to continuous exposure to preventable diseases. There has been an increase in environmental pollution and degradation arising from uncontrolled effluent discharges and scarcity of water for food production. And, the human dignity of entire communities has been ripped apart, as the right to the most basic of human needs, water, has been turned into a restricted privilege available only to those who can afford it."

When we buy bottled water, not only are we paying several dollars per gallon for a product OWASA makes available for around a penny a gallon, we are complicit in the privatization of water supplies in unknown and distant communities, often those that desperately need it for their own use.

Add to this the fact that numerous studies have shown that the quality of bottled water is unreliable, and drinking Dasani, Aquafina and the like becomes nonsensical wherever OWASA is available as an alternative.

OWASA is perfectly positioned to lead our community to "think globally and drink [water] locally." Kudos to WILPF and the Community Church for initiating this effort.



When I buy a bottle of Dasani and finish it, I refill it with tap water and put it in the refrigerator and reuse the bottle several times with local water. It usually gets used 3-4 times.


Here's some information on reusing plastic bottles. There are safety/public health issues with *some* plastics.


What would prompt you to carry your own nalgene bottle filled with OWASA water instead of buying Dasani?

Not so long ago, I used to buy glass Perrier bottles, then keep one at work to refill. Beyond avoiding chemicals, everyone thought i was VERY cultured! : )

Shoot. Dan scooped me. I was planning to use my next column to throw a wet blanket on the whole bottled water business. I doubt the issue would generate as much hate mail as my call to bring the troops home, but it's just as important. (And for the record, Mr. David Wright, I spent my three years with Marines parachuting from low-flying helicopters on NATO operations.)

My most recent water outrage came from a notice I read about a new rip-off company called Ethos Water that will be (is?) distributed through Starbucks. Their scam appeals to socially responsible people . . . with the promise that they'll give a portion of their profits to good causes.

Let's do the fuzzy math. You pay $1.50 for a bottle of designer water. The scammers get $1 in profit (at least) and some charity somewhere gets a couple of pennies. Here's a more practical idea. Carry a polycarbonate bottle, fill it from home, and give the entire buck-fifty to a local organization that's really making a difference.

I think our goal should be to put bottled water in the same category as "suntans and cigarettes." I know the analogy is imprecise, but carrying bottled water deserves to be stigmatized. In a community with the amazing quality of water we have, bottled water is environmentally disastrous and culturally bankrupt.

Our elected officials should lead this charge by prohibiting any town money to be spent on bottled water. Then they should personally lead by example. Maybe even get the towns to buy thousands of "Nalgenes" at discounted prices and resell them to citizens . . . like the county has done with compost bins.

Thanks for this good diary.



I made the suggestion about the Nalgene bottle distribution a couple of days ago so I know it will be discussed at tomorrow night's board meeting. I'm also putting together a petition for Chapel Hill, Carrboro and OWASA to work together to install outside drinking foundations in the downtown areas and along the greenways. Bottled or 'portable water; is a good thing for health, especially on very hot days. We just need to motivate more people to use OWASA as the source for the water rather than commercial companies.


The OWASA meeting is Thursday evening at 7 at the OWASA Bldg, 400 Jones Ferry Road.

Those who, like myself, are unable attend can find board contact information here.

I suggested as recently as July that installing water fountains along the streets from Carrboro to Chapel Hill, along our greenways and as part of our Downtown developments is long overdue.

Water fountains and decent public facilities provide another incentive for people to come down and enjoy our Downtown areas.

In addition, open acccess public restrooms for the lots #2/#5 developments should be required components of their design.

Terry. I may have implied that I have something against bottles of water. I don't. I have something against buying water already in bottles when there are easy, more environmentally responsible ways to go. I like your distinction "portable" water. Cool.

I suggested as recently as July that installing water fountains along the streets from Carrboro to Chapel Hill, along our greenways and as part of our Downtown developments is long overdue.

I agree. But unfortunately, this will actually only hurt our downtown(s) as long as we have the burgeoning bum population. Same thing with bathrooms. All it will do will be to encourage more bums to gather, and at least for Chapel Hill, it's a problem that the police can't seem to handle. Once we get them cleared out (if ever), then I agree, it's a fantastic idea. It adds significantly to downtown, while being relatively inexpensive.

Frank, in Chapel Hill various outdoor/indoor locales are already used as ad hoc bathrooms - the Downtown alleys, the Wallace deck elevator, assorted bushes, etc. by all sorts of folk. Sure, we could pass stronger ordinances and use precious police resources to crack down on this "problem" but that doesn't make Downtown a more enticing locale.

Public restrooms are a community amenity that I believe most people accept as a reasonable, cost effective approach to maintaining a clean and functioning Downtown.

I believe our community values human dignity and cherishes simple kindness.

What better example of those values than of giving those that thirst a drink of water or compassionately providing decent facilities for all our citizens?

WillR: I agree. But my point is that Chapel Hill is on the verge of not having a downtown and Carrboro's is still struggling, and a lot of it is due to the bum problem, unfortunately. And it seems like every time a new public facility is put up, the bums just congregate. For example, walk down Franklin St. any time, night or day, and you'll see bums taking up at least half of the benches. That's part of Chapel Hill's problem: concern with wanting to be equally as "nice" to all people is just not realistic. You can't be patronizing to bums who harass people and expect to have a thriving downtown at the same time.

That should be somewhat obvious.

While certainly not the only reason, or even the largest reason, the bum problem is certainly a major reason for the declining downtown. The very idea of a "downtown" is an uphill battle, already, and small business owners fighting high rents, little parking, big box competition, high taxes, etc., certainly don't need the added expense and hassle of dealing with bums scaring away their customers. Until this real issue is addressed, I fear that any more amenities such as water fountains and more public bathrooms will simply not be enjoyed by too many taxpayers, but will only be enjoyed by those who add -zero- to our community.

Individuals could start by not referring to them as "bums"!!! How insensitive.

Individuals could start by not referring to them as “bums”!!! How insensitive.
Able-bodied people who choose not to work, and instead just harass those of us who try to make a difference are "bums". I have yet to see any evidence of a real "homeless" problem in Chapel Hill/Carrboro approaching anywhere near the number of "bums" that we have. Spend a few years chasing them out of your business, away from random, unsuspecting people day after day and then seeing them ride the bus home at the end of their long, hard day, and you'll understand what I mean. I have -zero- sympathy and -zero- tolerance for these people.

I sepnt a month in Australia a few years ago. There are public bathrooms everywhere. Cities, small towns and everywhere in between. And most of them are very well maintained. Even in parts of Sydney where there were many homeless people.

It can be done.

Frank, you're right that our Downtown is under pressure. High rents, liquidity issues, poor allocation of parking, competitive pressures (from big box or UNC), empty storefronts make attracting and doing business more difficult in Downtown.

Chapel Hill has ordinances that penalize aggressive panhandling and punish lounging on our benches (did you know that you can't lie down on a bench in Chapel Hill?). I believe these ordinances are overbroad and haven't proven very effective in controlling the "problem" you perceive.

I've spent huge chunks of my life on that chunk of real estate stretching from Hector's to Weaver St. Market. Further, for the last four years, I've worked in central Downtown. I eat, shop, ride my bike along that strip on a daily basis.

My observation differs from yours.

For instance, many of the folk congregating infront of Ben & Jerry's are politely waiting on the buses. Should we rid ourselves of the buses? Or maybe you mean the "goth" kids that hang out in front of the Post Office? I've seen them generously assist visitors to our Town. How about the guys holding up boxes asking for a handout? Are they that frightening?

And recent statistics have shown a marked decrease in the last three years of crime Downtown. How many of the 19 robberies and 24 aggravated assaults downtown would you attribute to your "bums"?

This is not to downplay the potential danger posed by some downtown. But I don't think the guys that recently attacked and sodomized one of those folk you've characterised as "bums" were less attracted to Downtown because of the lack of public facilities.

James: How do they keep the homeless people in that case, from overwhelming the facilities? I can't help but feel that something like that added here would be badly abused. I can't remember the last year it was that I could get an ice cream at Ben & Jerry's, or a bagel sandwich at Bruegger's and sit outside and enjoy it on the benches.

I think from a simple santitation stand point, it would be wise to have some public facilities uptown. I've been thru the alleys uptown quite a few times that folks (be they homeless, or well off drunk partiers) that used them in lieu of the loo.

My apologies for this having absolutely NOTHING to do with bottled water.

WillR: No need to be sarcastic. I'm talking about a real problem that I don't think that I'm imagining. If you really do spend as much time on the street as you say, then you'd obviously been hit up (at least daily) for money by a professional with a story and a brown bag. I know that I have, and I still continue to on a daily basis. I simply tell them to take a flying leap, but when you have people who are venturing from the sanitized Southpoint type experience to Franklin or Weaver St., and one of their first experiences is to get hit up by a professional bum, there's little reason for them to stay. Heck, I'd be willing to say that in 13 years of living here, I don't remember *once* walking from Carrboro to East Franklin St. and NOT being accosted by a bum. If everybody wants to pull the PC line saying that bums are part of our "diverse community" or continue to simply ignore the problem, then no amount of water fountains or bathrooms is going to help.

Frank, you very eloquently framed the other pressures that our Downtown business community face - rents, etc. and I wasn't trying to be sarcastic - maybe you're detecting the "edge" in my voice. I'm not interested in ignoring the problems of our Downtown - it just seems sometimes that "bums" is code for a particular framing discussion that isn't very productive.

I agree that Franklin St. doesn't offer the sanitized shopping experience of a Southpoint. That's, I really hope, a major plus.

But I'm not asking for bathrooms or water fountains to serve some special community. I'm asking for these facilities so that we can fill a gap in our plan for Downtown economic development, so that we can entice people to walk from Hector's to Weaver St. Market even on the hottest of days, so Mom and Dad don't have to worry about taking the kids into a college bar to go to the bathroom.

Initially, we shouldn't have to spend inordinate amounts of money providing these small Town amenities.

We can start out by making open access bathrooms a key requirement of the $70+ million Downtown development project. We can also integrate the fountains into a revised Streetscape program.

But I'm not asking for bathrooms or water fountains to serve some special community. I'm asking for these facilities so that we can fill a gap in our plan for Downtown economic development, so that we can entice people to walk from Hector's to Weaver St. Market even on the hottest of days, so Mom and Dad don't have to worry about taking the kids into a college bar to go to the bathroom.
I understand completely. What I'm trying to get across is that with the current state of affairs downtown, adding such amenities might just backfire. It's like fixing New Orleans: You want to get electricity turned on ASAP, but if you do it while 80% of the city is still flooded, it's going to be worse than if you had just waited another week or two to get one of the underlying problems fixed, first.

Frank--I find your reference to 'bums' almost as disgusting as I find the way the poor residents of New Orleans have been treated. Where do you think people who are homeless should go? Oh wait....I know....out of sight. Then we can wait for a disaster and wonder why they didn't prepare.

I remember fondly the days when merchants in Chapel Hill and Carrboro showed compassion and concern for our homeless population. I know the numbers have burgeoned over the past 10-15 years, changing the nature of our social strata forever. But I hardly think we can blame the Chapel Hill/Carrboro homeless for having been left out of economic opportunities, much as we can't blame the poor of New Orleans for not evacuating. Homelessness is an end result of failed social policies, such as releasing prisoners and mental patients without any thought to where they would go or how they would support themselves. Those policies are being addressed, but we still don't have a good grasp on poverty, especially for those people who have medical problems. Address poverty and maybe you won't have to see daily reminders.

I know it seems like we're way off topic here . . . but maybe we can circle back to the issue of water.

How about this: If you provide water for people to drink, you also must provide places for people to pee. No matter whether you're a store, a shop, a town square, a concert hall or a park. Because what goes in eventually comes out and there's no sense pretending otherwise. The idea that people have to scramble and worry and plan their activities around where to go to the restroom is ridiculous. If you've been to New York City, you know exactly what I mean.


PS As I recall from Australia, restrooms were all over the place. Not one or two here or there that got overburdened, but lots of them . . . easily accessible . . . right in the thick of all the people. (They even had one amazing men's urinal . . . a "four holer" that was like a kiosk . . . not enclosed at all. You just walked up to it and did your business standing right out there in public. Boy was my wife pissed . . . no pun intended.) The vast majority of facilities were well maintained and clean. I guess it's just a question of priorities.

PPS Please send comments to the OWASA board that Dan linked above. They're listening.

Terri: Please read my earlier post regarding bums vs. homeless. I don't feel that I need to explain myself again.

James: You're right... is this just an idea cooked up here, or has some kind of study been done as far as cost and how many would be needed so that they would'nt end up being an eyesore (by being overwhelmed) been done? Also, where would bathrooms go? Fountains can sprout up pretty much anywhere along sidewalks, but bathrooms are much tougher. Would the towns have to use emminent domain to make space for them? Erect free-standing facilities somewhere? What would the cost of a perpetual cleaning crew be? If this would be done, it'd have to be done right the first time, otherwise, it'd be (quite literally) a real mess. The *only* public facilities that I know of know along Franklin St. are the bathrooms on the parking garage, facing the dumpsters behind "Amber Alley".... and those aren't bathrooms I'd ever steer friends and family in the direction of.

Hate to be negative here, as I wholeheartedly support local business AND the OWASA in my backyard, but their water tastes pretty poor. Maybe they could filter those water fountains, which, by the way, I think are a great idea.

I would like to challenge the participants of OrangePolitics to sign up for OWASA's Taste of Hope program. This program rounds up your water bill to the next full dollar amount and puts the 'round up' sum into an account to help those who struggle to pay their water bill. For more information on the program, see:

About 1,036 customers currently participate in the program. Can we push it up to 1,200 by November?

On downtown- there are multiple issues that need addressing that touch on the economic viability of Franklin St in a competitive retail market and the issues of social justice and compassion.

Frank is right that regardless of how many downtown panhandlers came into their situation, their behaviors (though not necessarily their presence) can be a deterrent to business.

Terri is also correct that dealing with the roots of poverty rather than its effects (begging for money) is more likely to solve the problem.

Seattle has taken an interesting approach to this- the "Urban Rest Stop." Take a look:



This facility has been a springboard to employment and also helps in the personal dignity department by providing some of the amenities for showering and public toilets.

The Project for Public Spaces also maintains a lot of resources on safety in public spaces.


I've talked before about the need for a public space plan. One can manage a public space without becoming like Southpoint. We spent the weekend in NYC and the public realm there so often contains the poor and the rich, and manages to be a place for everyone. We should draw our lessons for downtown from such places.

Re: bottled water. It has been brought to my attention that the Legislature requires schools to put bottled water in all their vending machines. HB 126 says "Bottled water products are available in every school that has beverage vending." This is just the marked up bill but I'm told that this particular provision was included as part of the budget. Anyone know anything about it?

Terri or Mark:

Can we get an update on last night's OWASA bd discussion and what the next steps are? Thanks.


My impression was that the entire Board supported the idea of promoting OWASA water. There also appeared to be interest in exploring the possibility of making it more portable and less wasteful through the distribution of reusable OWASA containers. The suggestion to talk with the towns about putting in drinking fountains was also tentatively supported. There was not agreement on whether or not OWASA should take a political stance against bottled water. We didn't vote on anything though so I'm not sure where we stand officially. Mark?

Terri, I'm glad to hear that the water fountains are getting traction. Was there any discussion on their placement or the type of fountain OWASA would use?

I'd love to see a fountain design that could have a plaque attached to commerate local and national civil rights workers. Maybe OWASA can keep that in mind.

To add to Terri's report, a few board members wanted to avoid any criticism of the bottled water industry. One said it was a consumer's right and a decision that OWASA should not interfere with. Another voiced concern that OWASA might put itself in legal jeopardy by openly "competing" with bottled water companies.

The general position of these three board members was endorsed by all but one board member who made several competing points such as noting that the bottled water industry adds a burden to local environments and taxpayers with the profusion of plastic containers that it creates, that people would benefit from being informed about the potentially lesser quality of bottled water, and that the bottled water industry generally represented a business scam and an unfair externalization of costs to the general public. This board member also pointed out that OWASA did not in any way need to criticize the bottled water industry - which was a major source of trepidation for the overall board - but merely should make the facts available and that the facts would be enough for people to make a reasonable choice to use less bottled water and more local tapwater.

One board member made the point that it would be a social injustice to oppose bottled water because a low-income community in Florida provides for itself in part by working at a bottled water facility.

The staff was directed to come back to us with a plan that would incorporate the board's desire for some education on the issue, the possibility of water fountains, and possibly some idea of how Orange County Recycling might collaborate.

I am the person who raised the concerns about employment. In *many* communities in north Florida (one of the highest poverty rates in the country), there is no industry. When the bottled water companies began locating there in the early 1990s, it provided very badly needed employment opportunities as well as an investment into the country schools. While I know that those companies are exploiting those communities in once sense, they are also providing opportunities for children who desperately need it. As I said on Thursday, it's a conflict that I haven't been able to work out for myself.

Here's something related that I've never understood. In
Harris-Teeter, we can buy 2 liter bottles of Coke and other
soft drinks for a little more than a dollar each.
These drinks are 99 percent water. Water is heavy and thus the cost of shipping soft drinks to the supermarkets is much of the cost we pay. Why don't our supermarkets
buy the Coke syrup, CO2 tanks, and use OWASA
water to bottle the soft drinks in the store? The answer
can't be "the secret Coke forumula", because fountain cokes
are available at ball games, lunch counters, etc.

Can OWASA bottle its own water and sell it locally? I have seen other small businesses do a private label. I am just thinking about how it might be nice for local schools to have OWASA water in the vending machine since it is mandated by state law anyway. And, it might be marketable at local grocery stores.

I'm sorry I couldn't be at the OWASA meeting to hear the discussion about bottled water . . . though it sounds like my temper might been boiling enough to purify a few gallons.

I don't understand why responsible public officials would not feel free to point out the negative consequencess of the bottled water industry (BWI). The environmental costs of BWI alone (demands on landfills, transportation and distribution, and recycling operations) are staggering -- and worsening every day.

Have we fallen so far that we cannot promote practices that clearly contribute to the common good? To refrain from supporting environmentally responsible practices around water consumption is like saying we can't promote bus ridership because we might upset automakers. In other words, it's kind of crazy.

I get that BWI might be good for employment . . . but so is the cigarette industry, prostitution, and casino gambling. That argument only goes so far.


The bottled water issue is attractive and important for three reasons.

First, it spans the boundaries of public entities . . . towns, county and OWASA. The most effective solution would be built on inter-governmental collaboration. Each juridiction has a stake in this issue.

Second, it presents the opportunity to achieve multiple benefits. Reduced waste, landfill preservation, reduced fuel use in transportation and shipping.

And third, it exemplifies a "local" solution to the national issue of "safe water." Katrina brought many challenges to the forefront, and one of them is the fragile nature of our extended supply chain. We should be encouraging consumption of local products as a matter of public policy.

The school system bows to corporate interests again. They've got water fountains in the hallways don't they?

James--the OWASA board fully supported promoting a local stance on waste reduction through reuse of reusable containers. The only thing we split on was taking a vocal stance AGAINST bottled water manufacturers.

Mark--the school system didn't have a choice. If they have vending machines, they are required to stock them with bottled water. Legislative mandate.

Anita--I don't think OWASA needs to become a manufacturer of bottled water. It would probably violate the charter and in addition we want people to use reusable containers instead of throwaways. I don't understand why anyone would pay for bottled water when they are already paying their water bill....not a good financial decision.

Thanks for the clarification, Terry. I suppose there's nothing to be gained by OWASA for taking a vocal stance against the BWI. Which means I'll probably need to write that column after all!

It seems to me that the school system actually does have a choice: get rid of their drink vending machines. I know that sounds radical, but it wasn't so long ago that machines weren't in schools at all. Maybe Chapel Hill and Carrboro should have laws prohibiting the sale or distribution of bottled water by organizations receiving town funds (unless they are not connected to OWASA).


PS If OWASA ever decides to distribute polycarbonate bottles, please keep the OWASA name in low profile. There's something a little unsettling about the "sewer" part of the name when you're drinking fresh water.

The slogan I've always liked for OWASA is "Orange Water Works."

Sometimes a bottle of water is the best option for someone who is traveling or otherwise not able to access a tap or water fountain. I don't understand why anyone buys bottled water to drink at home, but I can definitely understand buying a bottle on a trip or something.

There's also a very good reason to have container (portable) drinks at school. Children are dehydrated easily and dehydration has a negative impact on their ability to concentrate.

"Poor hydration adversely affects a child's mental performance and learning ability. Symptoms of mild dehydration may include tiredness, headaches and a feeling not unlike jet lag, as well as reduced alertness and ability to concentrate. Mental performance including memory, attention and concentration can decrease by about 10 per cent, once thirst is felt. Mental performance deteriorates progressively as the degree of dehydration increases. Thirst is usually felt when dehydration results in 0.8 - 2 per cent loss of body weight lost due to water loss. For a 10-year-old child weighing 30kg this is equivalent to one or two very large glasses of water (300ml each), which is the amount a child could lose during a PE lesson or running around in the playground. Water consumption also has an immediate alerting and revitalising effect."


I just took a tour through the SURGE website. How about asking them to take a stand against the bottled water companies? In fact, how about asking them to promote reusable containers on campus?

By school system I meant the BIg School Sysytem. But I agree with Jim - local schools don't have to roll over. They can find creative options to avoid stupid policies. And - as a fringe benefit - trhe kids might learn a valuable lesson.

Terri. Will do.

Mark--as to drinking fountains--I googled the key words "drinking fountains influenza" and came up with over 14,000 pages of hits. Many were from State Boards of Health and stated that vending machines,common use telephones, shared computers and DRINKING FOUNTAINS were excellent vectors for influenza, and should be avoided during outbreaks (or sanitized before use.)

I've always told my kids to stay away from the drinking fountains at school during flu season. Not that they are any worse than door knobs--but observe someone using a drinking fountain. They almost ALWAYS wipe their mouth with a hand after use. And that's not even including the "splashback" factor...

Just sayin'.

FWIW, I send my kid to school with "hurricane water" in the winter, and we use refillable bottles the rest of the year.

Make sure you put on your rubber gloves before you handle the currency that goes into the water bottle vending machines...

Nicely played, Mark. Way to dismiss a legitimate concern about drinking fountains...and ignore the fact that I MENTIONED vending machines. Though I DID forget currency. My bad.

Melanie, the CDC lists a number of possible contagious outbreaks associated with poorly installed or maintained water fountains. That said, I assume that with the amassed creativity, intellect and medical expertise in two our communities we can certainly find equipment that is sanitary, easy to maintain, environmentally conservative and even fits our aesthetic standards.

Calling water a "basic right", a California bill in 2003 mandated the return of drinking fountains in the school systems as part of "reclaiming [the students] childhood".

I spent the day biking with my son and of the three parks we rode through, none had acceptable outside drinking facilities. I don't know when or why fountains fell out of use, and maybe there's some fantastically appropriate reason why they did, but until I hear that reason I plan to press hard for this public "amenity".


I was speaking STRICTLY of school. I fully support water fountains outdoors. And I support water fountains in the school, as well--I just wanted to point out that there are legitimate reasons for people to look to bottled water as an alternative.


This multiblog was down so long yesterday that I didn't realize you had made the previous post.
In the meantime, I talked to a reputable source who explained how complex the business of disinfecting our water supply is.

We do know that the bladder cancer risk is higher in people who drink chlorinated water versus those who drink non-chlorinated water, but the truth is we know less about chloramines than we know about chlorine. Chloramines combine with organics in different ways than chlorine, and we have much research to do. So, while chloramination may seem an overall improvement, there are still big unknowns out there.

Some problems with chloramines that we do know about are:
>they are dangerous when combined with bromine (luckily, we have little bromine in our water here)
>they kill more fish (because they are longer lasting than chlorine)
>they pull lead out of pipes
>when algae blooms produce cyanobacteria which produce toxins, it's not clear if chloramines get rid of these toxins as well as chlorine

Ozonation is perhaps a safer way to kill bacteria and destroy toxins; however, with this method, little is left in the pipes for residual disinfection. With what we know, perhaps the best way to handle our water disinfection would be to ozonate first, and then use small doses of chloramines to disinfect pipes (but you still have the lead problem). This method may not be worth the additional expense.

There is no easy answer, but, let there be no confusion, surface water must be disinfected, unless one prefers cholera to small cancer risks. There are no known reasons to be afraid to drink OWASA water.

One last comment on the bottled water issue (at least for this week ;-) ).

My family and I were very lucky and had an opportunity to go to Bali a little more than a year ago. While there I met some incredible folk that were dealing with a "bottle" crisis.

Bali's water is not generally safe to drink so plastic bottles of water are ubiquitous. In lieu of improving the water supply, the government has focused on making the bottled water easy to obtain. Unfortunately, Bali is not setup to deal with the massive numbers of bottles discarded. Before the activists I met got involved Bali was losing out to the battle of the bottle. Bottles clogged the streams. They floated in large mats offshore. They filled the ditches. The activists had setup an operation that paid people to recycle the bottles (though they were working on a domestic facility to do so, at that time they shipped them to Java to process). They used the profits from recycling, plus a few grants and donations, to build the domestic recycling infrastructure AND to install sanitary sources of water (thus decreasing the use of bottled water).

The activists praised bottled water as one of the best ways to improve the health of their neighbors but had recognized that eventually that was a deadend path.

Quite impressive folk.



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