Water fountains in urban spaces

In the beginning, I didn’t notice. It did not occur to me to look for potable water fountains for re-filling my empty water bottle. Rome was hot and sticky despite it being September. For whatever reason I had failed to read my travel guide’s weather information carefully, and thought it might be cool in September – avoiding the hot sticky summer. Also my week off for vacation fell in September.

After suffering to buy an over-priced bottle of water in a touristy hole-in-the-wall shop, I stumbled upon a potable water fountain coming out of a wall right there at the side of the street. I stopped and stared at it. Do Romans really drink from these? Or fill their water bottles? It wasn’t labeled “potable”, but it certainly looked like it was designed for bottle filling or drinking from it. It wasn’t fancy, just a pipe with a valve for turning the water on and off.

As I spent more time walking around Rome that week, I discovered that potable water fountains were everywhere. I began to rely on them. I never had to look for one for more than five minutes while walking to find one. I re-filled my water bottle so many times. Free water. Conveniently available.

Other cities that I have visited also provide potable water fountains. Granada and Segovia in Spain, both do. They seemed a little far and few between in Granada, but Segovia had lots of them. In both of these cities, the water fountains were labeled “potable”. The Spanish word conveniently being the same as the English.

I remember drinking fountains being readily available as a child. Schools, stores, parks – all reliable places to find them. NYC still has drinking fountains in the big parks like Central Park and Prospect Park. The drinking fountains in Prospect Park even have a spout near the ground with a foot-operated handle, that dogs can drink from.

Tucson has drinking fountains in public parks. Udall Park has them. The last time I drank from one, the water was terrible. Tucson water is briny and requires considerable filtration, which is probably not reasonable in a outdoor public space. Should US cities be required to filter it’s water and clean it up to a certain standard?

Building codes in the USA still require drinking fountains in certain locations – schools, near restrooms in stores, and in places of assembly. But not in outdoor open spaces. And even when required, they seem to not be installed. Or they are in strange places so that nobody can locate them.

Should we include potable drinking fountains as standard urban infrastructure? It’s certainly nice. How would a car-driving culture find them? Should we require them in parking lots – the same way we require trees in parking lots? Would companies selling bottled water lobby to prevent installation of such fountains?