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Water fountains disappearing from campuses, says report

Polaris Institute commends several universities for embracing bottled-water-free zones

BY PHILIP FINE | OCT 19 2009

You just spotted that person who makes your heart skip and your mouth go dry. You anxiously look for the nearest drinking fountain and … nothing.

While the water fountain may be an important refuge to many a love-struck student, the water fountain itself has become expendable to the country’s universities, according to a new report that looks at its disappearance on Canadian campuses.

The report, released by the Polaris Institute, the public advocacy group that, among its other issues, has been campaigning for bottled water restrictions, documents several instances across the country where water fountains have been left out of new university construction or have been decommissioned from existing buildings. A drink of water, it finds, can more typically be found in the washroom sink, the personal water bottle or the vending machine.

One of the culprits for the water fountain disappearances can be found in provincial building codes and regulations, according to the report. Many provinces call for new buildings to provide sufficient potable water but do not specify that the water needs to be delivered by public fountain.

That, writes the report’s author Richard Girard, plays right into the hands of bottled water suppliers. “Faced with either putting one’s head under a bathroom tap or purchasing bottled water, students, faculty and staff will most likely choose the latter.”

The report gives kudos to the universities of Toronto and Guelph for including water fountains in recent new buildings and the University of Winnipeg for being the first university in Canada to ban the purchase and sale of bottled water on campus this past March. Thirty-two universities now have bottled-water-free zones on campus, part of a “back to the tap” movement growing in universities and municipalities.

The report’s author hopes that the many universities that have come out with sustainability plans will see the incongruity of proclaiming their greenness while letting the eco-friendly water fountains disappear.

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  1. Marc Pandi / December 3, 2009 at 17:03

    The University of Ottawa has so far undertaken to address the issue of Water fountains disappearing from campuses by investing $150,000 over a two year period (2008-2009) to install fountains equipped with goosenecks for easy and efficient filling of re-usable water bottles. It has repaired and improved those in poor quality, and installed new fountains near food service locations. In addition, these fountains are wheelchair accessible, free of mildew, have good water pressure and distribute cold water. The University encourages the use of tap water to reduce the environmental impact of bottled water on campus by declaring bottled-water-free zones. The Campus Sustainability Office reviews, conducts visual assessments, and monitors water fountains regularly.