Common Waters: Politics and the public water fountain
July 25, 2015 7:31 PM   Subscribe

It's been over 100 years since the common cup for public water fountains was banned, reducing their health risks. But we don't trust drinking fountains anymore—and "it’s making us poorer, less healthy and less green."

In the United States, the public water fountain* was a project pioneered in the 19th century by the Women's Christian Temperance Union (previously, includes state-based list of WCTU fountains) as an alternative to drinking alcohol. But the use of a single cup at each fountain led to illness, and by 1912, 24 states banned them.

Meanwhile, public water fountains, such as this early bubbler, thrived, a source of sustenance for all. Although sometimes separately: from 1876 until 1965, separate water fountains--for "Whites" and "Coloreds"—were a common feature in the Jim Crow South. Photographer Elliot Erwitt's Segregated Water Fountains, North Carolina, 1950 remains an iconic image of the bitter division. The stated reasons were couched in the language of health and hygiene; it wasn't until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 mandated "equal enjoyment … of public accommodation" that the signs came down.

In the wake of 1990's Americans with Disabilities Act, and given the age of many public water fountains, cities began to consider how to redesign them. Shaping Water: The design history of New York City's public drinking fountains summarizes New York City's charge:
“During our design research,” Emmanuel [Thingue, Senior Landscape Architect with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation,] says, “we found that most city park drinking fountains were vandalized in one specific way — by knocking out the bubbler. That was the single, chronic, most destructive form of vandalism because once the bubbler is gone the entire piece of furniture housing the waterworks is completely useless.” And so out of the gate, New York City Parks was charged with creating a drinking fountain design that was indestructible, functional and elegant.
Even so, the reworking of bubblers was soon eclipsed by the rise of bottled water, and they began to disappear. In a 2012 post on the Environmental Protection Agency's Our Planet, Our Home blog, Nancy Stoner of the EPA's Office of Water put in a plea to bring back the water fountain:
Water fountains can also save money. The U.S. provides some of the highest quality tap water in the world at a very low cost to consumers. Municipalities work hard to provide this service, spending billions of dollars to provide clean tap water, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. On average, the cost to treat, filter and deliver tap water is 0.2 cents per gallon – roughly 750-2,700 times less expensive than bottled water. In spite of this cost difference, Americans drink around 30 gallons of bottled water per person per year. And with one estimate that 1,500 bottles of water are consumed in the U.S. every second, this is a huge amount going into the recycling and waste stream. Since cities bear the cost of collecting, transporting, recycling and land-filling plastic bottles, reducing this stream could save city resources.
(This may become more relevant, as China is beginning to turn away American recyclables.)

Americans are increasingly reluctant to trust water fountains. Because aren't these common water sources all germy and gross? Not necessarily, says environmental and science writer Elizabeth Royte, noting that "microbiologists say the odds of contracting a disease this way are extremely low." (More from Royte on fountains and bacteria.) (You could always make your own home-made sanitary drinking cup with this instructable from 1911. Need to find a public water fountain? There's an app for that!)

Drink water. And reflect on its source, the humble drinking fountain.

* Unless you call it something else, of course. Like a bubbler. Wisconsin has been credited with the origin of the bubbler, courtesy of native son Harlan Huckleby; however, that story has been debunked by the Sheboygan Press (whose article does, however, discuss how "bubbler" has been used as a Wisconsin regionalism).
posted by MonkeyToes (68 comments total) 75 users marked this as a favorite
 
I love the Benson Bubblers here in Portland, OR. Also, I am perplexed by people who would rather buy water by the plastic container rather than get water flowing fresh from Bull Run - the water you flush your toilet with around here is better than most bottled waters.
posted by idiopath at 7:36 PM on July 25, 2015 [13 favorites]


Mention of "the common cup" made me think this was going to be a post about the common communion cup, which had a similar fall from grace (ha, pun).

I'm a huge fan of water fountains! Particularly in NY (all my bottles are stickered as such), and particularly the new-fangled ones that dispense water from the top to fill up your bottle.

Great post!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:41 PM on July 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


It is certainly fountain-like and clearly doesn't produce any bubbles, but anyone with time in the Navy (or the Marines) will tell you it's nothing other than a Scuttlebutt.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 7:42 PM on July 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


Poorly maintained water fountains lack the water pressure to put their feeble stream above the faucet, forcing you to put your lips on the thing, or more likely, to look at it and think, "Man, people must put their lips on that thing," and leave it.

Great post. I love water fountains. I remember what a delight it was to be able to split away from the line in grade school and get a good mouthful -- why was I so much thirstier as a kid? But whenever I'm in a fine public building put up in, say, the early 20th century, there's always a lovely marble fountain set in the walls and totally inoperative. If you live near a small marble planter that was placed there "in memory of" something in the 1900s or so, chances are it was originally installed as a horse trough or a water fountain, and later filled with impatiens when nobody could be bothered to keep up the plumbing.

Related: a kid's lemonade stand that spread polio.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:43 PM on July 25, 2015 [12 favorites]


It seems like I see fewer and fewer water fountains these days, but I might just not be in as many public buildings, either.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:52 PM on July 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


It seems like I see fewer and fewer water fountains these days, but I might just not be in as many public buildings, either.

From that WaPo article: "Even the International Plumbing Code, followed by builders in most American cities, has signaled that the fountain is out of style. In the 2015 edition of the manual, which lays out recommendations on matters such as the number of bathrooms an office should have and how pipes should work, authors slashed the number of required fountains for each building by half."
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:56 PM on July 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


The one place I used to buy bottled water was Disney World, because man, WHAT THE FUCK is with the water down there, did you deliberately piss off Satan? Then they finally put in water filters everywhere, now you can just buy one bottle and refill, if you forgot to bring a bottle with you.
posted by eriko at 7:58 PM on July 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


great post, I actually shuddered when I saw the picture of the kid with the common cup, and I think of myself as extremely non-germphobic.

I honestly am just so spoiled now that even when I trust a public water fountain (and I generally do), I don't want warm water. I want cold water. But I still like cold-water fountains, which I always found magical since my elementary school days when there was only one cold-water fountain in the entire school, right outside of the cafeteria.
posted by skewed at 7:59 PM on July 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


If 3/4'ths of people have herpes anyway you're basically fighting a winning battle.
posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 8:09 PM on July 25, 2015


Great post!

I was in airports a few times recently, and I love the growing presence of water taps specifically to fill your refillable water bottle. A new building on the college campus where I work has one of them, and it gets used a lot.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:12 PM on July 25, 2015 [14 favorites]


In NYC I'm now seeing more and more places with drinking fountains like this so you can refill your own bottle quickly - I am a huge fan and hope it can start turning the tide. I had no idea that people weren't using them because they didn't trust the water, but then again I was shocked when I read about the anti-fluoridation fights going on, so what do I know.
posted by Mchelly at 8:13 PM on July 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


I love those bottle refill stations here in the Denver airport. And nothing irritates me more than an airport terminal that's utterly lacking in water fountains. I do not understand Europe in this regard - lack of water fountains have been a constant annoyance in my enjoyment of otherwise extremely well designed airports, public buildings, parks, and city centers.
posted by deludingmyself at 8:16 PM on July 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


A very good idea, but I can't stand the chlorination.
posted by jamjam at 8:18 PM on July 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I trust tap water just fine. I do not trust tap water from a fixture that has been licked and slobbered on by various dogs at the park.

No, not even if you tell me how much cleaner dog mouths are.
posted by corey flood at 8:19 PM on July 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


idiopath: I love the Benson Bubblers here in Portland, OR.

I loved them too until I saw this on my last visit -- and I'm a dog person! Seriously, I'm not a germophobe by any stretch, but I know where dog mouths and noses have been, and I don't want any part of it.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:28 PM on July 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


Halfway through high school, the district put signs on every water fountain to not drink from them because the water contained lead. I had probably drunk from them hundreds of times by that point. Kinda changed my perception on the safety of water. Of course they never replaced or even disabled the fountains, and the soda machines in every hallway were unaffected.
posted by miyabo at 8:34 PM on July 25, 2015


If you live in an area with lots of children, this is basically why you don't use water fountains.

I'm all for water-bottle-filling-stations, they're a much better idea.
posted by mmoncur at 8:35 PM on July 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


I like those water fountains that include a tap for refilling water bottles from.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:46 PM on July 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


New York City has these weird sort of "pop up" water fountain kiosks in summer in various locations. I see one all the time in Brooklyn Bridge Park - they look like big porcelain troughs with about five or six water-fountain-style spouts set up along each side, and one sort of spigot in the center for people to refill bottles, and there are a couple of volunteers there just sort of standing around and making sure people didn't do something stupid (like wash their head in it or something). I was at one today (forgot my water bottle when I went out kayaking) and it was a godsend.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:46 PM on July 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the post, I am a fan of all but the grungiest of water fountains. Long live tap water. Down plastic waste!
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:46 PM on July 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm all for promoting public drinking water, but I've had an experience or two that soured me on the kind of outlet that lets you drink from the spout.

On days when the buses were late I'd pass through a park on my way home from school. Every time I passed through I'd take a drink from the bubbler. I loved that bubbler. Then one day I went for a drink and found a human bowel movement under the tap. This wouldn't have been easy due to the inconvenient height and position of the tap- even a tall man would have to get on his tippy-toes to do it. Some filthy bastard had gone to the effort of lifting his arse into a very uncomfortable position so he could literally shit on a public amenity. Knowing my town at the time, it was probably a drunk 18-19 year old man the previous night who couldn't pass that tap without thinking how hilarious it'd be to ruin something for complete strangers.

That's why I don't trust public drinking fountains any more. No matter how nice the town I'm in, no matter how clean it appears, I can't get the image of that surprisingly firm turd out of my head. As long as that kind of destructive selfishness exists I'll stick to the much more difficult to contaminate bottle refill stations.
posted by timd at 8:49 PM on July 25, 2015 [8 favorites]


Add me to the list of people who trust tap water but don't trust most water fountains. Water fountains are so poorly maintained nowadays that you pretty much have to do the Parks & Recreation thing mmoncur linked to.
posted by chrominance at 8:53 PM on July 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


From the common cup link:

The law had been attacked because no evidence had been presented proving disease transmission by the common cup and the regulation banning the common cup was an interference with individual rights...

The origins of today's Republican Party are right there, ladies and gentlemen.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 9:07 PM on July 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


Absolutely brilliant post.

“Most people over the age of 40 have really positive stories of drinking fountains as kids,”

Count me among them. I have a real fondness for the drinking fountains I used to patronize regularly as a kid running around free-range in my hometowns. They were anchor points of summer refreshment. I didn't know we'd had a WCTU fountain post in the past; I was idly thinking of making one, as I maintain a Pinterest board of Temperance fountains. In any case, our bottled water epidemic is already well out of hand.

I recently saw a viral Facebook post about how germ-riddled our fountains are; I meant to do some research on whether that was BS or not (it certainly seems like BS), but had not done so yet. My sense is that it is completely overblown, the point of actually causing public harm because we no longer support this type of public accommodation. Contamination fear is deeply embedded in American culture, tied up with racial and class fear, and germophobia is one sideways expression of that. This is the biggest reason why we no longer build community pools (though private pools are welcome) and other benevolent structures meant for a wide cross-section of society to share and use. It's not about germs.
posted by Miko at 9:24 PM on July 25, 2015 [18 favorites]


Water fountains have never looked the same for me since this scene from Parks and Rec.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 10:00 PM on July 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


Oh am I the third person to mention that? OK.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 10:01 PM on July 25, 2015 [7 favorites]


I saw the common cup still used in Russia in 1970 when I was a child there on holiday. I remember a streetside soft-drink vending machine which had a single glass sitting there.
posted by w0mbat at 10:03 PM on July 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Huh. I live in downtown Toronto and I can think of half a dozen water fountains within ten minutes walk off the top of my head. Is this a cultural thing?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:09 PM on July 25, 2015


I love water fountains, and have developed a technique for drinking from them that should be known by as many two-handed people as there are:

1. Use one hand to activate bubbler.

2. Cup opposite hand under stream, away from bubbler.

3. Drink from the pool that forms in the cup of your hand.

You should be able to shoot that stream of water right between your fingertips and your cheek, and drink from the heel of your palm.
posted by carsonb at 10:20 PM on July 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh but yes indeed the new bottle fountains are fantastic and I get immense satisfaction from watching the 'plastic bottles avoided' counter tick up.
posted by carsonb at 10:20 PM on July 25, 2015


Great post!

I had a bout of extremely serious food poisoning some years ago that made me very scared of germs and disease (for a while I didn't even leave the house because I wasn't sure what I'd come across). And yet I always manage to convince myself it's OK to use a water fountain. And then after the fact I'll think "oh God, was that a mistake?" But I keep doing it. I actually like the taste of fountain water, for whatever reason.
posted by teponaztli at 10:35 PM on July 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Fountains aren't cold enough most of the time, and the idea of putting my mouth near the spout gives me the creeping screamies, all those slobbery grownups and runny-nosed children I see roaming the world using water fountains.

I'm down with the idea of a spigot for water bottles. I can do that.
posted by angeline at 10:50 PM on July 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


I had measles when I was five. My Dad brought me home a ginger ale. It was the first time I ever tasted soda. I asked him where he got it. He said he got it from a fountain at his office. I was shocked since I had drunk from several fountains and they never tasted sweet and bubbly. I thought, "How do you know which fountains will taste like this?"
posted by Oyéah at 11:07 PM on July 25, 2015 [29 favorites]


When my kids were little, they used to get water all down their front when they'd try to use a drinking fountain. So I bought a collapsible camping cup that lives in my purse for whenever they want to use a fountain. (Plus, you can put snacks in it if necessary.) My older daughter's turning 10 in a couple weeks, but she still asks to borrow the cup when she's thirsty.
posted by leahwrenn at 11:37 PM on July 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think a really important factor for water fountains + germs is that between the exit of the water from the fountain and my mouth there is no standing water that germs could breed in, and between the last time dog butthole or shaving hobo approached the flow of water and now, any residue that touched the flow of water had a plenty of time to dilute to extra-homeopathic dosages if present at all. It would be different if I personally were touching any part of the fountain to my mouth, but really there's a well known cleaning agent running the whole time, I'm not super worried.
posted by idiopath at 12:03 AM on July 26, 2015 [8 favorites]


Dude, have you seen what they did to the water fountain in that park on Church?!? Asquith Green Park, apparently.. Bottle filler!

The stream from it is super slow. The structure seems designed for maximum sun heating of the water that comes out. The drain splashes a lot while you are waiting for the water to cool. I guess the designers probably think the drain is less plug-able (and/or poopable.. I'm not going to bother trying to convince timd or all the Parks and Rec fans that their germophobia is irrational, even though it is), it's obviously very easily vandalized if somebody wants to.

So, so stupid...
posted by Chuckles at 12:05 AM on July 26, 2015


At the local park, there's a track where I run. The parking lot abuts a building with a roof over 8 picnic tables, male and female restrooms, and a maintenance closet. No water fountain. The plumbing is right there! Graaaggghhhh.
posted by Night_owl at 12:13 AM on July 26, 2015


Public water fountains are only one side of the equations. The US needs to get with the program on public bathrooms as well. You might find there are less people shitting in your water fountains if you install a few more of those.
posted by Jimbob at 12:13 AM on July 26, 2015 [11 favorites]


Jimbob: "Public water fountains are only one side of the equations. The US needs to get with the program on public bathrooms as well. You might find there are less people shitting in your water fountains if you install a few more of those."

The assholes who shit in water fountains don't do it because of lack of facilities. It would be easier just to shit behind a bush if they were truly desperate. No, they do it either for the nihilistic glee of ruining something nice for other people or to raise their standing among their fellow dickheaded friends.
posted by double block and bleed at 2:33 AM on July 26, 2015 [9 favorites]


Wait, people require special techniques to drink from water fountains? I just put my mouth to the stream of water and drink like one would drink from a faucet or garden hose: catch the water in mid-air. Why do you need to catch the water with your hands or a cup?
posted by I-Write-Essays at 3:45 AM on July 26, 2015 [6 favorites]


If the water fountain has enough pressure that I don't need to be touching the spout with my mouth, it has never occurred to me to be worried about germs.
posted by jeather at 5:00 AM on July 26, 2015 [5 favorites]


There's a water fountain in a courthouse I'm in sometimes that both shoots the water well past the basin and dispenses water at something like 80 degrees. I life water fountains, but that thing is the worst.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:24 AM on July 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


My city has a nice system of paved multi-use trails that I (and the rest of the city) like to run on. One trail is about 13 miles long, and has 2 water fountains, around miles 10 and now, recently added, mile 3 (very recently-- it saved me on a long run last week, which was the first time I noticed it). The other trail is about 6 miles long, and has no water fountains.

It's kind of ridiculous-- one of the local running clubs puts out coolers every couple of miles for their members to use, or, sometimes, a kind soul will put up a cooler for everyone. But otherwise, you have to pack your own in or have fun getting severe dehydration.
posted by damayanti at 6:07 AM on July 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


damayanti, my city too. The eight mile long trail that runs along the rivers near my house has exactly one water fountain and that's all the way at the far eastern end (and actually in the next municipality). I can't remember seeing a fountain on any of the other trails.
posted by octothorpe at 6:10 AM on July 26, 2015


My grand childhood fountain memory is what fun it was to be, like, 6 years old and to get a polaroid snapshot drinking from the fountain at the zoo that makes it look like you're sticking your head in the mouth of a lion. Down with disposable water bottles and up with public fountains! #notgermophobe
posted by drlith at 6:14 AM on July 26, 2015 [5 favorites]


Is there a Health Problem with Drinking Fountains?

"The answer is: It depends.

"1. Technology has lessened the risk.

Drinking water fountain technology has improved over the past decades. At one time, water shot up vertically from a spout, inviting children to wrap their mouths around the spout, leaving their germs to be dispensed to the next drinker. Spouts are now designed to be installed at an angle to the drinker, with a spout shield that prevents the former mischief. (That said, it wouldn’t hurt to let the water run for 10 seconds or so before quenching your thirst.)

"2. Some water fountain surfaces may be contaminated with pathogens.

We know children (love them as we may) can be running, jumping, laughing reservoirs of pathogens! Water fountain toggles in schools were identified as one of the most contaminated surfaces in schools in one study. In another study, rotavirus, which is the most common cause of diarrhea in infants and young children, was identified on water fountain surfaces in daycare facilities. This begs the question: Are water fountain surfaces ever cleaned and disinfected? They should be, and on a regular basis. A simple chlorine bleach solution (1 tbsp. bleach in 1 gal. of water) can do the trick in schools and public buildings that are staffed by custodians. If in doubt about the level of maintenance, the public can use portable wipes on these surfaces to help reduce germ transmission.

"3. Positive Water Pressure

Positive water pressure is critical to keeping clean water flowing out of the fountain, preventing back-siphonage."

Cultural fears about purity are far less amenable to portable wipes and plumbing improvements, of course.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:25 AM on July 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


"bubbler" has been used as a Wisconsin regionalism

And Rhode Island! People from as a close as Massachusetts have looked at me like I'm a loon when I have asked where the bubbler is although maybe that's because they've only ever heard it pronounced "bubbla".
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 6:35 AM on July 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


Bulgaroktonos: I life water fountains.

I heart autocorrect.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 6:50 AM on July 26, 2015


People from as a close as Massachusetts have looked at me like I'm a loon when I have asked where the bubbler is

Must've been north shore people. Southern MA is all about the bubbla!
posted by tocts at 7:06 AM on July 26, 2015


In the United States, the public water fountain* was a project pioneered in the 19th century by the Women's Christian Temperance Union (previously, includes state-based list of WCTU fountains) as an alternative to drinking alcohol. But the use of a single cup at each fountain led to illness, and by 1912, 24 states banned them.

Paris has the Wallace fountains from roughly the same era. The Mr. Wallace who donated them also had temperance as one of his motives.

(Also, apparently they had attached cups until 1950.)
posted by gimonca at 7:18 AM on July 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


When I was a young lad in the early 1980s, I used to drink from school and park water fountains all the time. And then one day while I was visiting my dad at the Seattle Public Library where he worked, I declared my thirst and went off running to the nearest fountain (the one under the escalators on the ground floor).

He bellowed at me to stop, and chased after me. "No!" he said, "Come with me and I'll find you some clean water!"

You see, in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan had closed all the large mental hospitals, and promises of smaller ones to pick up the slack had not appeared. So most major cities had a sudden influx of the mentally ill and chemically dependent dumped onto their streets. Where could someone like that spend hours and days without being told not to loiter? Well, the public library, of course!

And so, apparently that fountain I was heading to was a favourite one for a gentleman who had excellent aim at peeing right around the rim of the thing. He made it a daily ritual for a while, I was told.

I still wish we had good fountains, although the bottle-refill ones do seem highly promising!
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 8:03 AM on July 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


Public water fountains are only one side of the equations. The US needs to get with the program on public bathrooms as well. You might find there are less people shitting in your water fountains if you install a few more of those.

You clearly don't understand that the provision of public goods must always be done in a way that discourages their actual use otherwise people of the wrong sort will use them. It's called "Defensive Architecture"
posted by srboisvert at 8:25 AM on July 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


You should be able to shoot that stream of water right between your fingertips and your cheek, and drink from the heel of your palm.

If I haven't been able to wash my hands, I feel like whatever I've picked up on my hands would be way worse than anything in the stream of water.

As far as what you call it: when I was a kid in TX I rejoiced at finding a water cooler. Not the big 5-gal-bucket things we have in offices now, but the freestanding powered steel-cabinet water fountain that dispensed chilled water. Aaaah.
posted by Miko at 8:30 AM on July 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


My grand childhood fountain memory is... drinking from the fountain at the zoo that makes it look like you're sticking your head in the mouth of a lion.

There's a lion fountain in the town where I grew up and it makes me smile to remember it, too. I was back in Marquette a few years ago and drank from it on general principle.
posted by mr. digits at 8:32 AM on July 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


Historical & Sculptural Drinking Fountains of New York (scroll down). Related, 100 Fountains NYC.
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:36 AM on July 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


Since joining a running club in NYC, I have learned that they are the experts in water fountain knowledge. Which fountains are the coldest, which fountains have the best water pressure, which ones are on in winter-- not to mention which ones are on during the season changes, since the outdoor ones don't all turn off on the same day in November and don't all turn on the same day in April. Run with a group on a summer day and you'll get two questions when you're proposing routes- 'is there shade?' and 'are there water fountains?'. Needless to say I'm a big fan of water fountains. Those rare ones that have great water pressure, cold water, and a separate bowl on the ground for dogs are a sight for sore eyes at the end of a long run when the water bottle you've brought run dry several miles ago. All hail the humble water fountain!

(though just the phrase 'common cup' makes me shudder-- thank goodness those days are in the past.)
posted by matcha action at 8:40 AM on July 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


the freestanding powered steel-cabinet water fountain that dispensed chilled water

And the joy when one was finally tall enough to drink from it (without needing a boost). And some had a foot pedal, which was both awesomely cool and made it seriously harder to hack getting a drink from when you were too short (and on your own). And the lovely faintly moldy-chloriney taste. And stools near taller fountains in elementary schools. And being told by the teacher on brutally hot days in un-airconditioned schools that you had to use the nearest fountain (which dispensed higher-than-body-temp water) if you needed a drink during class, and were not allowed to go to the single cooled fountain in the school because water was water if you were thirsty and not just trying to get out of class for longer.

I also remember pairs of (non-cooled) fountains in school/playgrounds/parks that had one shorter one and one taller one, and this acted as sort of a filter so little kids could get to a fountain even in a crowd of mixed-age kids. There was some pride in being able to reach the bigger fountain (and some shame at still being too little and having to use the lower/shorter one), and this sort of segregated things so that the littlest kids weren't competing with the biggest kids to get water.

Also, I might be misremembering or tinfoil hatting this, but don't brass handles/spigots discourage buildup of germs in a way that stainless steel/aluminum and plastic do not? I seem to recall an article about the effects of changing out doorknobs from brass ones to steel or something in a hospital, but this might have been all kinds of wrong. (ah. wikipedia says useful for bacteria but not viruses?)
posted by you must supply a verb at 9:12 AM on July 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think a really important factor for water fountains + germs is that between the exit of the water from the fountain and my mouth there is no standing water that germs could breed in, and between the last time dog butthole or shaving hobo approached the flow of water and now, any residue that touched the flow of water had a plenty of time to dilute to extra-homeopathic dosages if present at all.

If it's outside, it's exposed to the Sun's UV flux as well. That'll take care of that in fairly short order.
posted by eriko at 9:46 AM on July 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


that fountain...was a favourite one for a gentleman who had excellent aim at peeing right around the rim of the thing.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo


EponysOMG
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 10:36 AM on July 26, 2015 [6 favorites]


I love public water fountains, but they're usually not maintained and are really gross. It's not an issue of usage - it's related to the structural infrastruture issues that the US is suffering from overall.
posted by yueliang at 1:50 PM on July 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


I do not understand Europe in this regard

Well, Zurich has around 1200 public drinking water fountains, so the concept isn't entirely unknown in Europe. They come in many different sizes and shapes, including somewhat questionable designs (nsfw, probably).
posted by effbot at 3:12 PM on July 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Vienna has around 900 permanent water fountains and deploys temporary ones for large crowds as well. The majority of the permanent water fountains are in parks, and its relatively rare to see them in, e.g. shopping malls.
posted by frimble at 3:34 AM on July 27, 2015


They're called bubblas in Southern NH, too!

I've been drinking out of a lot of Common Cups recently but mostly they're full of crazy proof alcohol (everyone shares shot glasses when partaking in "Welcome, Stranger" alcohol). Anyway, I figure any germs are very, very dead. And after the first couple of sips, I'm too buzzed to care anymore!
posted by ChuraChura at 4:02 AM on July 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Public water fountains are only one side of the equations. The US needs to get with the program on public bathrooms as well. You might find there are less people shitting in your water fountains if you install a few more of those.

I really really hate the arms race against public bathrooms. No place wants to have a public bathroom because it causes problems and is too busy and stuff, but that's only true because there's not enough of them. If every place bigger than X size was just forced to have public bathrooms no one bathroom would be all that bad or that huge of a hassle to maintain.

I'm so very tired of having to lie at starbucks that i'm going to get a drink after i come out just to use the damn bathroom. And yes, i've had them try and start a stupid debate with me.

As for fountains, i can only think of one off the top of my head in my(central, middle of town) neighborhood. There used to be a couple more, but they were removed even though they were extremely old and very pretty. The one that's still around works great and i've never seen it be gross, but the button on it is so worn out from how much it gets used being the only public fountain in a shitload-of-blocks radius.

And don't even get me started on the neighborhood i grew up in, in which the neighborhood council decided that the right thing to do was to remove public trash cans because they were "eyesores that usually have garbage piled around them".

And then one day while I was visiting my dad at the Seattle Public Library where he worked, I declared my thirst and went off running to the nearest fountain (the one under the escalators on the ground floor).

That building was a horrid place too. It was ugly and depressing with it's unfortunate architecture, aging falling apart everything, and cigarette-stained-yellow lighting. It was 60s/70s modern design in the most defeated possible "we never landed on mars and now society is collapsing" way.

I saw quite a bit of pretty upsetting shit like you described there. And i mostly ascribe the much more upbeat design and natural light/etc of the new downtown library for how much less filthy and oppressively bad it feels to be in, even though it's still full of the same mentally ill people and hobos. It just FEELS like a place it's totally fine to use the fountains at.
posted by emptythought at 3:44 PM on July 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Ever since I can remember, the meme was that you shouldn't drink from public water fountains, because "homeless people piss on them". And I was like, why would they even do that? That's what slippery-dips are for.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:35 PM on July 27, 2015


What is a slippery dip? It sounds like something you'd see a professional for.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:23 PM on July 27, 2015


Oh yes indeed, emptythought. Imagine if the same logic for parking spaces were applied to public hygiene!

And yeah, that old library building was horrible. The aroma of the chess players on the 2nd floor kept me away from the Business and Technology section despite being a total tech nerd boy. That and they would often erupt in fisticuffs with no prior warning unless you were an expert watching the game.

The children's section on the third floor was a sanctuary well into my teenage years, just because it was a place with tables where you could sit down and they did a good job keeping out the people with poor impulse control.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 3:17 AM on July 29, 2015


What is a slippery dip?

A slippery slide!
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:33 PM on July 29, 2015


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