Do You Know How to Use a Water Fountain?

CC BY 2.0. Darwin Bell

Some head-scratching tips from The Guardian are a reminder that there are young folks unfamiliar with these old fashioned devices!

With the tide of public opinion turning against disposable plastic water bottles, the old-fashioned water fountain is making a comeback. The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, recently announced a new network of water fountains and bottle refill stations across the city. His hope is that this will cut slightly into the horrifying one million plastic bottles that are purchased every minute worldwide, providing citizens with a greener option for hydration.

Any readers older than 25 will remember the days of lining up for the water fountain in grade school, when we were all hot, sweaty, and gasping for breath after recess and were only allowed a few seconds at the spout before being sent to the back of the line ("Everyone gets a turn!"). That was before there were Nalgenes and Klean Kanteens dangling from every backpack, long before parents and teachers fretted incessantly that we might somehow die of dehydration in the fifteen minutes we spent playing soccer outside.

Sadly, the last two decades have seen fewer and fewer water fountains in public spaces, replaced instead by vending machines offering bottled water for a couple bucks each. Now, not only do you have to pay to slake your thirst, but you also have to get rid of garbage afterward. It's absurd. But now, fortunately, the pendulum is swinging back to a more sensible place, where water is free, clean, accessible to all, and devoid of superfluous trash.

The only problem is, we have to teach all the young 'uns how it's done. After all, they have yet to discover the joys of scummy spouts, feeble flows, gum-clogged drains, and metallic aftertastes. OK, I'm being facetious... Obviously these are a small price to pay for cleaner shorelines and healthier seas.

An article in The Guardian, titled "How to drink from a water fountain -- without catching something," provides instructions. One of the more useful points:

"The main source of contamination is on the knobs and buttons of fountains; if you are going to wipe anything with a disinfectant, go for the knobs, not the spout."

Interesting. I hadn't really thought of that before, but it makes sense. It was followed by this gem, which caused me nearly to spew a mouthful of tea all over my keyboard:

"The risk of getting herpes from the spout is almost negligible, but for those who feel queasy about any public amenities, it is best to drink from the flowing jet of water, rather than wrapping your lips round the spout." (Italics mine)

It appears readers were as indignant as I that such a recommendation needed to be made. Their amusing comments included:

"Could I also have some advice about how to pull my knickers up too?"
"THANK YOU. It's always great to stumble upon an ingenious tip like this."
"Anyone brave/bonkers enough to wrap their lips round the spout of a public fountain is obviously already suffering from delirium ... probably as a result of dehydration."
"For the sake of the gene pool there are some times when it's better to let Darwinism take its natural course."

Wrapping one's mouth around the spout of a public water fountain is reserved for a category of ickiness I will aggressively avoid my entire life, but perhaps it is not instinctive for everyone. Certainly I've been known to howl at my kids not to put their mouths on a spout, and I doubt I'm the only parent to do so. Rather, I tell them to stand tall and get above the spout, always test the water flow before bending to put your mouth in it to avoid a face full of water, and let it run for a few seconds before drinking.

Nevertheless, I have high hopes for the future water fountain network in London. I expect it will be maintained and cleaned regularly, which will make a big difference in user-friendliness. Anything that can get us away from our unhealthy addiction to single-use plastics is a step in the right direction.