Message in a bottle

Water Fountains Sustainability

University of Minnesota Duluth student Sam Knuth was having a hard time getting enough H2O. With no drinking fountain on his residence hall floor, he had to fill his water bottle in the dorm’s bathroom sink.

The faucet was short, his bottle was tall. Sam actually had to bend his water bottle to squeeze it under the faucet, making it a crumpled mess. Not to mention, he was a little freaked out by whatever germs could be making contact with his water bottle. “I was like, ‘This is so dumb. Let’s do something about this.'”

Meanwhile, on the other side of campus, Judy Breuer, a community health major in the College of Education and Human Service Professions, was conducting a survey to see how much water students were drinking. A member of UMD’s Student Health Advisory Committee, Judy found that many students living in the dorms were either not drinking water or were buying bottled water. Survey participants sited a lack of water fountains as the reason. They explained that, like Sam, they either couldn’t fit their water bottle under the bathroom faucets or they were dissuaded by the idea of filling it up from the same sink in which people were washing their hands. “There was a lot of concern about them not being able to fill their water bottles or being concerned that it’s not sanitary,” explains Judy.

One day Sam happened to overhear Judy talking about her survey. It was like chocolate meeting peanut butter in the old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercials. Sam anecdotally saw the need, Judy qualified that need with her survey. Says Sam, “This is something that bridges the divide. The issue’s right there, it needs to be solved for everybody who lives in the dorms.”

Sam, a marketing major at the Labovitz School of Business & Economics, is a member of Net Impact, a campus organization dedicated to coming up with solutions that satisfy environmental, social and economic needs. Net Impact and the Student Health Advisory Committee began researching a solution together, meeting with the departments of Sustainability, Environmental Education, Housing, and Facilities Management. “We were bringing people together from all over UMD,” says Sam.

During the 2012 spring semester, the group applied for a $3,000 Mini Grant from the Institute on the Environment to fund the project. They got it. The only problem? It wasn’t enough money.

The $3,000 grant paid for about 12 percent of the total project cost. Enter UMD Housing. Initially, Housing agreed to pay for two faucets for every one that was funded by the grant. In the end UMD Housing paid for $25,000 of the $28,000 project. “Housing and Residence Life was supportive of this project because it was a win-win opportunity for the department, for student residents and for the student members of Net Impact,” says John Weiske, director of Housing and Residence Life.

Water BottleSix bottle filling stations and 66 gooseneck faucets were installed. One water filling station counter registered 1,200 uses in the first week of school, an average of 171 uses a day.

Mindy Granley, director of sustainability at UMD, gives the credit to Sam, Judy and their team. “Without students bringing forward the issue and finding the money, this wouldn’t have happened,” she said

Sam says collaboration among multiple enitites is what made the project happen. “I give huge thanks to housing for helping explore different options for filling water bottles, to Judy Bruer for providing Net Impact with the information to put together for the grant, and to the sustainability director, Mindy Granley, for suggesting the grant to us in the first place.

“I would like to give the most thanks to my partner on the project and VP of Net Impact, Katie Earling. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without her help on the writing for the proposal. I coordinated the project, but she had the great writing skills to put together an excellent grant proposal. The project has definitely been my favorite part of my college career so far. I am glad I could leave such a positive mark on the campus.”

Lori C. Melton is a communications associate at the University of Minnesota Duluth. This article was adapted with permission from the original posting on the UMD homepage.

Images courtesy of UMD photographer Brett Groehler. Top: Sam Knuth and Judy Breuer; bottom: new gooseneck faucets