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White Only. A common sign posted on public facilities (e.g. public schools, drinking fountains, transportation) in Jim Crow segregated America (1876-1965) in the former slave states. Today, urban Americans face a less obviously demarcated threat to public services that has crept into our culture since the 1980’s when corporations began to capitalize on public services, especially water. 40 years ago bottled water hardly existed as a business.

The bottled water industry has generated demand for its product through marketing, persuading Americans that bottled water is purer and healthier than tap water, even though the U.S. federal government requires more rigorous safety monitoring of municipal tap water than it does of bottled water. Through its Pure Life brand, Nestlé began shifting production from spring water to tap water in 2005. In 2009, Nestlé Pure Life was the most advertised bottled water brand in the country with nearly $10 million spent, mostly on television ads. Between 2008 and 2009, when almost all other major bottled water brands’ sales declined and industry-wide sales decreased by 5 percent, Nestlé Pure Life grew by 18 percent. This may be due to the fact that Nestlé Waters increased advertising expenditures on the brand by 3,000 percent between 2004 and 2009.

Nestles especially targeted people in emerging markets and minority groups.

“We are raising a generation that views tap water with disdain and water fountains with suspicion. We’ve come to pay good money—2 or 3 or 4 times the cost of gasoline for a product we have always gotten and still can get for free, from taps in our home.“ Message in a Bottle. Public funding of tap water infrastructure in schools, public parks and in public venues like transportation hubs evaporated without notice by the public, as vending machines replaced fountains , and we became gradually addicted to plastic bottled water while mistrusting what was once the accepted norm ― tap water.

Water fountains are a crucial final link in serving water to the public and the only sustainable method to maintain a healthy, hydrated active public without depleting our water supplies (it takes 3x the amount of water inside a bottle to manufacture the bottle and and the petroleum used for each bottle is 1/4 of the bottle’s contents)Bottled Water and Energy Fact Sheet. Today 4% of the world’s oil goes directly toward plastic production with another 4% to provide the necessary energy to produce plastic. Lives Per Gallon. Bottled Water is poisoning humans through leaching chemicals into the water and through polluting our water bodies with microplastics that come back to haunt us in our seafood.

“Pedestrians and cyclists deserve water and shouldn’t have to overpay for it in wasteful plastic bottles,” said Eric Garcetti, Mayor of LA speaking about Tap Water Day with WeTap. “Water bottle filling stations allow everyone to enjoy as much water as they need to hydrate while protecting the environment.”

Who does lack of public water fountains impact? In America, mostly the urban poor for whom paying 2000 times the cost of tap water is an economic injustice. Around the globe, this excess deprives those for whom water is being stolen. “The global economy has contrived to deny the most fundamental element of life to one billion people while delivering to us an art of water “varieties ‘ from around the globe, not one of which we actually need” (Message in a Bottle) Corporations also take our local waters to bottle at pennies on the dollar to sell back to us when we are paying are paying taxes to have safe public drinking water.

In fact, America has been bamboozled by corporate misinformation about the safety of our public water supply and the alleged benefits of plastic bottled water. The truth can be read in any municipal water report and in scientific studies that have exposed plastic bottled water for what it is, a dangerous source of estrogenic chemicals.

“Most of our water systems are publicly owned and operated and doing a great job,” said Mary Grant, the Water for All campaign director for the Food and Water Watch. “What we’re seeing is a federal decrease in funding, so our systems are faced with ageing infrastructure, especially communities in Northeast and Midwest that have lead service pipes that need to be replaced.” But even lead can be filtered out of water at the tap in the meantime: see the National Sanitation Foundation’s (NSF) list of filters certified to remove lead, and a bunch of other potential contaminants as well.

With climate change increasingly threatening our water resources and with children missing out on the benefits of fluoridated water and tooth decay and obesity on the rise, it is time to reinvest in public drinking fountains for all.

In Los Angeles, the move toward public water fountains is gaining steam. LA City, under Mayor Eric Garcetti and along with the American Water Works Association, LADWP, The LA Department of Public Health, and WeTap inaugurated Tap Water Day in May of 2015 to celebrate the safe drinking water in our city, Los Angeles Unified School District made its first multimillion dollar commitment of 20 million to ensure the safety of drinking fountains in all LA Public Schools, and in California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon allocated 10 million with the Water in Schools Act to assist school districts across state to improve water access points.

WeTap is dedicated to ensuring the drinking fountain is respectfully maintained as a vital community service providing safe clean drinking water to the public in schools, parks, transportation hubs and all public areas. As Evelyn Wendel, Founder of WeTap is quoted in The Washington Post, “We can make improvements by teaching how valuable our municipal water is and making it available in schools and parks,” she says. “It’s a measurement of the success of humanity when you have free water for the community.”

What can you do to help:

1. Be Informed: Read your local water quality report

2. Stop buying plastic bottled water

3. Buy a reusable canteen

4. Use the free WeTap App to find, map and rate public drinking fountains

5. Follow WeTap on Facebook and Instagram to see People Using Fountains around the Globe

This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post and has been republished here with the author’s permission.

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