Originally published in Vancouver Courier
Water is permanently etched in Vancouver’s identity. Ocean waves lap the shores of the south coast, a rainforest provides our city’s breathtaking backdrop, and radiant lakes and reservoirs dot the surrounding region providing places to hike, swim and fish.
Why then are we so miserly when it comes to making water freely available on our streets? Vancouver has far too few publicly available drinking water fountains, and those that we have are often poorly maintained.
If you have taken a sip from a Vancouver water fountain over the last few years, it has been a less than satisfying experience.
When the fountains are actually functioning, water often dribbles out with a decidedly metallic taste due to mineral build-up in the plumbing. Adding to the disappointment is the fact that those drinking fountains are shut off for most of the year.
It is time for us to champion more year-round public access to drinking water in Vancouver.
Compared to the rest of the planet, we are blessed with so much fine, clean drinkable water here that most of us take it for granted. As far as 2015 goes, however, Mother Nature is testing our assumptions about our water supply.
The snowpack customarily melting off of local peaks this time of year is practically non-existent. Stage 2 restrictions of water use — whereby homeowners can only water their lawns once per week — are a certainty this summer.
Public awareness campaigns since the early 1990s asking the public to reduce water consumption have been fantastically successful. And now during this dry patch, city officials are smartly asking citizens’ help in reporting water abusers.
Even with the extraordinary lack of rainfall our region has faced (precipitation is at record lows since February), the Capilano and Seymour watersheds are at 83 per cent capacity. Contingencies are in place for accessing more supply from the Coquitlam watershed if our dry weather continues.
All the hot weather should motivate us to expand the availability of drinkable water, not retreat from it.
To its credit, the City of Vancouver has added a total of seven temporary drinking fountains during the summer.
Seven additional fountains — which are connected to fire hydrants — added to the total of 250 seem paltry when compared to Rome’s 2,500 drinking fountains. There are 400 alone in the ancient capital’s town centre.
These fountains are known as the nasoni (“big noses” because of their shape). They provide fresh clean drinking water for free, and that which drains off is recycled for other non-potable purposes such as street cleaning and gardens.
Surprisingly, Rome provides this fresh water with approximately half our annual rainfall. Locals and tourists alike covet the water source.
According to the last Vital Signs report conducted by the Vancouver Foundation, our region is the most physically active urban centre in Canada. As a runner I join thousands of people jogging, cycling and walking our streets, sidewalks and seawalls daily.
Finding a rest stop for tasty water in Vancouver on a typical 10K run I can attest is a huge challenge. Our active local population would be quick to embrace these new water sources.
So, too, would tourists parading past our various attractions. I have walked up and down Gastown countless times and wondered why there is not a single drinking fountain there.
To achieve this expansion easily, we could utilize some of the city’s 6,200 fire hydrants.
Indeed, if you search the Internet you will find images of drinking fountains that connect to the hydrants that are sturdy, attractive and accessible for adults, children and people in wheelchairs, without obstructing their use during fire responses.
Drinking fountains should be placed on the seawall and at least a few installed in every commercial district in the city — including the Drive, South Hill, Marpole, the East Village, Kingsway and Joyce, West 10th, and South Granville — to name a few. In the Main Street shopping district, there is an underwhelming total of two drinking fountains over dozens of blocks.
Politicians may question the need for this among their other priorities and pet projects. Certainly, the beverage companies are content to keep selling water in plastic bottles.
However, our clean drinking water provides us with an important sense of place here in Vancouver, which is why we should do more to showcase it.