Seems like a question begging for an easy answer: where do you get your drinking water? In this case, frame your answer with “at the Med Center”. There are lots of options, including the bathroom or kitchen sink, drinking fountain, water cooler (bottled water), or small bottles that you either bring from home or purchase here.

Many people dislike the taste of the water that comes from a tap. While you can be confident that this water is safe to drink, let us not confuse “potable” with “palatable”.  I can tell you that the tap water where I live is a bit off-putting (but the hose was a fine source when we were kids!).  The same goes for drinking fountains, which use tap water for a source. Do ours have filters inside? Perhaps, I don’t know. If they do, are the filters serviced? No idea, but I’ll ask Charles Witcher, Manager of Plant Operations and Maintenance. OK, it turns out that some fountains have filters, others don’t, and filter maintenance is somewhat expensive.

What is interesting to me is where patient drinking water tends to be obtained in the inpatient areas. Several weeks ago, when we had the water system incident that disrupted water service in the Main Hospital, I participated in the response. I was surprised to learn that water for patients is often obtained from the ice machines, as each machine has a filter in it, helping to make the water taste better.

How many of you get those pints of bottled water from vending machines or bring them in from home? Aren’t they convenient, particularly if you’re not fond of tap water?  Have you considered the environmental cost of this convenience? Among others, the Pacific Institute of Oakland, CA, has researched this, and suggests that, in 2006:

1. Producing the bottles for American consumption required the equivalent of more than 17 million barrels of oil, not including the energy for transportation.

2. Bottling water produced more than 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide.

3. It took 3 liters of water to produce 1 liter of bottled water

Thought-provoking, isn’t it? And there’s more. Check out the Pacific Institute fact sheet here.

And what did that bottle of water cost you? Let’s just say it’s a buck at the vending machine, and a quarter if you buy a 24-pack at the Big Box Store (BBS). The cost of water here at the Med Center is $0.0075 per gallon. Let’s see, 8 pints in a gallon…we’re at 0.09¢ (yes, about a 1/10th of a penny) per bottle, or roughly 275-16 oz. bottles for a quarter. The pint bottle of water from the BBS costs over 250 times more than tap water, and that doesn’t even take into account the environmental costs suggested by the Pacific Institute. And the vending machine bottle of water? Oh, my…almost 1,100 times the cost of tap water. The same tap water which, by the way, costs you nothing at work.

I looked up the cost of the 5-gallon jugs of water that get delivered to your home or office, and the per-gallon cost where I live is about $1.70, still 85 times the cost of that at the tap. I can look through the glass front door of the office next to ours and see at least six of these 5-gallon bottles are lined up in the reception area: I see opportunity, as I’ll explain.

The tide is starting, ever slowly, to turn against bottled water. A city in Vermont recently banned the sale of bottled water in less than one gallon sizes. It’ll be interesting to see how that goes. There are at least a couple of dozen colleges and universities in the US that have banned the sale of bottled water. One gets the sense that there is finally some pushback against bottled water.

What would you think about having access to a good, tasty alternative to bottled water here at work?  It makes sense that if you’re going to move away from bottled water (given the cost and the Hydration Stationenvironmental impacts of bottled water use, it’s a good thing to do), then there has to be a readily-available alternative. Most of the colleges mentioned above, and many who have not yet banned bottled water, have moved to hydration stations. These dispense filtered water from a shoulder-level spigot, making it easy to fill your reusable bottles. How many of you have tried to fill a bottle or other vessel from a drinking fountain with low pressure? Not a pretty sight.

Back to the hydration stations: I think we have a great opportunity to bring some in here at the Med Center and put forth a challenge to the bottled water system.  Most hydration stations are made to take the place of drinking fountains, and many feature both a bottle filling station and a drinking fountain, like the unit seen here (from one of many manufacturers of hydration stations).  I’ve seen units with a tally counter at the top, clicking over every 16 ounces dispensed to let you know the number of bottles of water for which purchase has been avoided.

While they have been well-received at colleges (and check them out the next time you’re at SFO), I would not expect hydration stations to replace bottled water sales at all locations at the Med Center. It’d be unreasonable to eliminate the option of a bottled water purchase for a visitor at the Main Hospital. However, I’d really like to see Hydration Stations take root in non-patient care areas. There’s a beat up drinking fountain outside of the EH&S office, and many 5-gallon bottled water users in the building. I bet we could swap out the drinking fountain for the hydration station, pay for that thing in two years, and provide some good environmental impact mitigation in the process.What do you think, FSSB? Shouldn’t we be in the lead here? Last thing we want is some other location, like Broadway or Medical Education to beat us out. I’m ready to get a trial started. It’s like a Race to the Top. Who’s going to have the first hydration station at UCDHS? Who wants to save money while protecting the environment? Standby…

Do something Green today!