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Dwindling water supply

Ivana Pelisek | Interrobang | News | October 20th, 2008

Students want nothing more than to have access to clean, potable drinking water. New buildings currently being built in colleges and universities across Canada are denied rights when it comes to the installation of drinking fountains.

A Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) survey has concluded that “new buildings are being built without water fountains, that existing water fountains and cold water taps in washrooms are being removed, and that vending machines are blocking access to water fountains.”

While water fountain locations are disappearing, many colleges and universities have contracts with two of the four biggest corporations, PepsiCo or Cola, to sell their products, including bottled water, to students.

Annually the number of bottled water sold is in vast numbers including the sales of other Coke or PepsiCo products. According to Statistics Canada, “Canadians are drinking more bottled water than in the past. It is estimated that in 2000, 820 million litres of bottled water were produced for Canadian consumption. By 2003 that figure had risen to almost 1.5 billion litres.”

According to Fanshawe Manager-Retail Services Dave Smith, “approximately 40,000 individual bottles” are sold at Fanshawe College alone in any given year.

While the operations of the Fanshawe Student Union, which includes Oasis and the Out Back Shack sell 3,800 bottles of water year.

Along with other vending machine beverages, the consumption and demand is high over drinking fountains, which are located in almost every hallway on campus.

“Individual water sales are close to soft drink sales, however, energy drink sales have really exploded in the market and are growing faster than water and soft drinks,” added Smith. Installing more drinking fountains on campus does not appear to be a top priority for management, who don't see the need.

Installing drinking fountains in the Student Centre, which was constructed in 2004 and currently does not have a drinking fountain, would have been a “waste of time and money,” admitted Operations Manager Jon Young. “Why install more water fountains if no one is using them?”

Water fountains and their poor maintenance has been a concern for a number of years, and now that public or private institutions sign contracts with huge corporations such as Coke or PepsiCo, they are left to rot away and be neglected.

Smith feels students should have an “option” as to whether or not they prefer fountain water over bottled.

“I have no problem drinking fountain water. If I were a student on a limited budget I might choose to drink tap water,” admitted Smith.

According to some students, the option of using water fountains is out of the question due to some of their ‘appeal'.

The CCPA concluded with their study that 33 per cent of respondents noted a reduction in the number of drinking water fountains on campuses.

According to the study, the number of water fountains is diminishing and the majority of water fountains left behind are not in the greatest shape.

The question continues to remain as to whether or not students will drink water out of a ‘not-so-clean' fountain or will they refrain completely and only purchase bottled water and other products supplied by Coke.

Smith said that it is “personal choice” students have as to whether or not they want to drink water out of a fountain or purchase bottled for better convenience.

According to Smith, he finds that a certain way to ensure students are using water fountains would be to perhaps “place goosenecks on the fountains so that students can refill their water bottles. The college can place more fountains around campus and also update some of the older fountains located on campus.”

Students are provided with an option, but both can only be exercised if fountains are accessible and clean and vending machines are not blocking the way.
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