Scrap the Plastic: Local Nonprofit Puts Tap Water Back on the Map

By GABRIELLA BOCK | Contributing Writer

Can you recall the last time you used a public drinking fountain? A generation ago, water fountains could be found in every park, school and shopping complex, however, as more Americans reach for the Evian, finding a functional fountain can be almost as challenging as locating a working pay phone.

Luckily, Palisadian water warrior Evelyn Wendel, along with Palisadian environmentalist and LA Deputy District Attorney Lisa Kaas Boyle, has developed a mobile app to help you wet your whistle while cutting down your plastic footprint.

The WeTap app, which is an extension of Wendel’s not-for-profit tap water advocacy organization of the same name, is an interactive, open-source map that allows users to find the nearest working drinking fountain.

Founded in 2008, WeTap works with the city of Los Angeles to revitalize its drinking fountain program through education and the installation of public fountains in LA schools and in underserved communities.

In an interview with the Palisadian-Post, Wendel explained that WeTap’s objective is to change the public’s perception on tap water and, as a result, reduce dependence on store-bought, single-use plastics.

And for good reason too: Last year, Americans consumed about 50 billion plastic water bottles of which only a paltry 23 percent made it back into a recycle bin.

Concern over the safety of tap water has come back into the forefront of national dialogue in recent years after toxic levels of lead were discovered in the waters of Flint, Michigan, and nearly 3,000 other areas throughout the United States.

Fortunately, according to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, LA tap water is, as of 2017, considered “as clean as bottled water,” thanks to the agency investing in new infrastructure, including a second ultraviolet disinfection plant currently under construction in Granada Hills.

“Los Angeles has some of the best tap water in the country, yet so many people are completely unaware that it is perfectly safe to drink,” Wendel told the Post. “By renormalizing the use of drinking fountains we believe that we can regain the people’s trust in our city’s clean water.”

One of WeTap’s mapped locations

The former film producer and mother of two Palisades Charter High School graduates also argues that drinking fountains play an important civic role and, that by asking the city to maintain public fountains we, in turn, request that they maintain municipal water as well.

“Paying attention to our drinking fountains serves as an opportunity to remind water agenciesand the citythat public access to clean tap water should always remain a priority,” she added.

And the hard work is paying off: In 2015, the Los Angeles Unified School District allocated nearly $20 million to eliminate all lead from drinking water at LA Unified schools and, in most city schoolsincluding Pali Highfiltered hydration stations have been installed for students to fill up their reusables in-between classes.

Over the next few years, WeTap will continue working with LADWP to install dozens of public hydration stations around the city for the upcoming LA 2028 Summer Olympic Gamesuntil then, don’t be afraid to reach for the tap.

“We’re hoping [LA] becomes the national standard for drinking fountains,” Wendel said. “We want to make tap water sexy again.”