A foreword on a blog article? Written by the author? Look, it’s my blog and I do what I want. There’s no editorial team to tell me otherwise.
The reason for this Foreword is because many, if not all, of the posts on this blog are based on ideas I wrote about months ago, but never posted. Looking through those drafts, I found this one; which is even more relevant than when I started. Rather than rewriting it entirely to reflect our new lives under coronavirus, I want it to be read in the context of our previous “normal” life. Public water accessibility has always been an issue in Los Angeles, one which is only exacerbated during the current crisis. We must fully address it moving forward post-pandemic.
And now for the article…
Water For ALL
Water access is not something most people regularly think about in Los Angeles. Going out to eat? Get water at the restaurant. Heading to work? Get water at the office. Thirsty after work? Drive home and get water. While this easy access to water might be a basic standard of living for the overwhelming majority of Angelenos, there are also thousands of people who are not as fortunate.
The Case for Public Water
Go to many cities around the world and you’ll find public drinking fountains all over the city. Some will look like beautiful and elaborate sculptures, while others are modest fountains one might even find in LA at a park or on the beach. There’s nothing new or particularly groundbreaking about water fountains; yet they are critically lacking in the Los Angeles public space.
This is bad for many reasons, but I’ll start with the most critical group. We need clean water for homeless residents. This is obviously not the only step civic leaders should take towards addressing homelessnees, but is an important one to meet the immediate needs of unhoused residents. Public water fountains would provide free, clean drinking water for thousands of people who otherwise do not have a reliable water source. Not to mention how this water can be used for basic cleanliness, like hand and face washing.
Commuters are another group who benefit from abundant public water sources. Many transit riders wait at bus stops with no shade protection or have commutes which take 2 hours on public transit. For some reason most Metro stops, including almost every train station, do not provide water fountains for commuters. They also lack public restrooms, but that is a different article.
Tourists also benefit from an increase in publically available water sources. While their destinations are somewhat predictable, the Hollywood Sign, Walk of Fame, various studios/theme parks, etc., they might be out all day exploring and, at some point, need to drink water. Having been fortunate enough to travel in Europe, where some restaurants even charge for water (gasp!), finding fountains was a great way to stay hydrated while traveling. Plus, LA is hosting the Olympics pretty soon, so we can expect even more tourists in the near future.
And of course, the general public benefits from water fountains. Sure I could walk into a Starbucks, buy a snack, and ask for a cup of water; but I could also just take a drink from a public fountain or refill my water bottle. It’s also helpful for families who have kids, who can sometimes be unpredictable with their needs. Kid: “Mom, I’m thirsty!” Mother (aggravated): “We just stopped for water and you said you were fine!”
Types of Water Accessibility
There are three main types of water systems which should be expanded throughout Los Angeles.
- Hand washing stations – Usually found in public restrooms, but recently introduced on city streets in select areas with temporary hand washing stations. More on that in a sec…
- Water bottle refill stations – Currently found almost exclusively on beaches, trails, and parks
- Drinking fountains – Found almost exclusively on beaches, trails, public buildings and parks
What Has Been Done? (Section Added Post Coronavirus Outbreak)
The City of Los Angeles unleashed public hand washing stations throughout the City for unhoused residents and the general public to clean their hands. This is an important step, particularly in the context of very immediate actions needed to prevent an outbreak. But, as a recent Curbed article and various users on Twitter note, these portable hand washing stations have been running out of water.
Short-term, this is an issue the City will have to deal with on a daily basis. Long-term, there is clearly a need for permanent hand washing stations which don’t require daily refills. There is also still a need for drinking water, which isn’t technically solved by these sinks. However, I would assume many people with no other options may use them that way.
What Can be Done?
Here is a list of steps with common and innovative measures which could be taken to increase public water accessibility:
- Add drinking fountains and water bottle refill stations at all Metro Rail stations
- Ensure all parks have multiple drinking fountains and public restrooms.
- Work with different property owners to place fountains on the sidewalk as street furniture in highly trafficked areas or close to homeless populations.
- If public restrooms are expanded (again, different article), ensure they have drinking water available in addition to hand washing stations.
- Repurpose waste water for other things (watering grass or cleaning for example)
Metro Water Stations
These would be located leading up to the platforms on underground stations and next to the entrance on outdoor stations. For underground stations, this could get pricey. Trying to access existing water lines is probably expensive, especially for the purpose of water fountains. So it may need to be included with a major remodel of old stations or the addition of bathrooms. They should also be part of the plan for new stations. Outdoor Metro stations could include fountains similar to the ones below.
Most parks already have some type of water fountain/public restroom. But not all of them do, such as Pershing Square in Downtown Los Angeles. Parks should all have these amenities, as they are typically city owned and get used for leisure and recreation. Hopefully the future plan for Pershing Square’s renovation includes restrooms and drinking fountains, but the City should ensure all other parks have these critical amenities. The drinking fountain above is under $5,000 and includes a water bottle refill station. These water bottle refill stations are useful for promoting reusable water bottles and reducing plastic waste from single use plastic bottles.
Around the globe, Metro stations and parks are very common places to have water fountains, bathrooms, and sinks. What could set LA apart is widespread availability of drinking and hand washing stations right on the public right of way. The city could add the same types of water fountains used in parks, or, similar to a recent street light competition, work with the public to create an innovative drinking and hand washing fountain. Some ideas which may be included are:
- Water bottle refill station
- Drinking water fountain (ADA compliant)
- Hand washing station with refillable soap dispenser (smart device to alert when low on soap)
- Doggo water drinking station with doggy bags for clean up (alert for low bag number)
- Call center for emergency response
- Transit/walking information or mobility hub
- Solar powered cell phone recharging stations
- City-wide free wifi provider
- Local artist installations
Some of these ideas are lofty, and all would dramatically increase the cost. Not to mention how gimmicky it felt just just writing some of them down. But the main idea is to provide accessible water for everyone; and if it takes a reinvention of the drinking fountain to earn political momentum, then here are some ideas.
A network of these fountains could be piloted downtown, with an emphasis on skid row, to prove their viability for future expansion. Here is a map of 25 possible locations. They should have clear and bold signage alerting pedestrians of their presence.
The next two are structural long term issues but…
Expand public restrooms
We’re assuming these water stations are on their own, but incorporating them with public restrooms make a lot of sense for obvious reasons.
This is an entirely separate issue which just acknowledges that the water shouldn’t go to waste afterwards. To the extent possible, it should be recycled and used for watering parks or other innovative uses where recycled water would be appropriate. This is another topic that will need to get explored in a separate post.
Water fountains would cost the city money to purchase, install, and maintain. We’ll assume that each fountain costs about $5,000 for materials and $20,000 for installation (Note, this number is basically a guess considering the plumbing that needs to happen). We’ll also assume an annual maintenance cost of $2,000 per fountain for cleaning, repairs, soap (if provided), the water used, and other items. For the pilot program of 25 fountains, the total initial cost would be very roughly estimated at $625,000 and the total program cost for 10 years would be $675,000.
Of course, this doesn’t account for the public health benefits which occur from providing everyone with clean water and places to wash your hands. Better health not only increases lifespans, but would reduce hospitalizations, the spreading of germs and bacteria, and ensure a better overall quality of life. I can’t put a price tag on those benefits, but I believe that should be part of the budget considerations.
We need more water access during pandemics and “regular” times to ensure residents have water to drink and wash their hands. Adding these resources can be done with a simple water fountain, or with innovative fountains of the future™ which add hand washing stations and emergency response calls. The end goal is that residents, both housed and unhoused, are able to permanently access clean, drinkable water to meet their daily needs. Accomplishing this would create city-wide improvements to quality of life, cleanliness, and the well-being of all residents and visitors to the City.
POST SCORECARD (1 BEING THE LOWEST)
- Implementation Difficulty: 2/3 – Budget is a concern here, we shouldn’t take this away from money providing housing or other homeless resources. Maybe there’s room to work with new developments combined with parks and other street services.
- Photoshop Skillz: 2/3 – One okay graphic? Check
- Outrage Meter: 1/3 – Politically this doesn’t seem too radical, especially since it’s downtown.