SF's water bottle refilling stations are safe, experts say. So, why don't people use them?

Lyanne Melendez Image
Wednesday, May 1, 2024
Why aren't SF's water bottle refilling stations used? We take a look
San Francisco's water bottle refilling stations are safe, experts say. We take a look at reasons the public may be averse to using them.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- You may have seen them -- public water bottle refilling stations all over San Francisco -- or maybe you haven't.

It's free, perfectly healthy, fresh drinking water that many seem to be saying "no thanks" to. Why? The answer might surprise you.

We went looking for one of those elusive water refilling stations, located just across the street from our building along the Embarcadero.

But people walked right by it.

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We stopped one city resident to ask if he would try drinking the water out of the refilling station. "I don't trust the water here," said Kelly Murrary.

Here's what the keepers of our water system, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, had to say.

"Tap water is required under state and federal guidelines to be regularly tested. We test in San Francisco almost 100,000 times per year. Bottled water is not under the same standards. We actually test the tap water many more times than bottled water is actually ever tested," said Alison Kastama of the SFPUC.

Why then, the mistrust?

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UCSF researchers have worked with government agencies and found that people's perception of what comes out of here may depend on where they have lived.

"They're worried that the pipes haven't been updated, and we learned that immigrant folks bring with them the perception that public water is not safe, because they're coming from countries where public drinking water isn't safe," said Roberto Vargas of UCSF's Center for Community Engagement.

It's in those communities and in parks where the city has made a concerted effort to install more of these stations as a way to encourage people, especially young kids, to drink water instead of sugary drinks.

The Bayview, for example, has a high number of people with type 2 diabetes.

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"When you're putting stress on your kidneys, stress on your liver, processing all of this in your pancreas, it causes other issues in your body," said Joi Jackson-Morgan of the 3rd Street Young Center and Clinic.

Their mission is to help produce healthy and engaged young adults by focusing on what they put in their bodies.

But what about the rest of the city? Why haven't these stations caught the attention of more people, despite the SFPUC's online locator map?

During the pandemic, the program suffered a setback as people didn't want to touch surfaces.

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"It was understandable in that moment, but we're not in that moment anymore," Vargas said.

Yet, still we recently saw how hundreds of Giants fans walked past this refilling water station and not a single person used it.

But after a long wait along the Embarcadero, we finally found a skateboarder filling up his water bottle.

"There's one in Union Square, there's this one, there's one at the new Visa spot that I use all the time, they're in skate spots and people need them to drink," pointed out Hunter Walker.

"We need to do more of it, and we need that public information posted at each of those stations so people know why they can trust that water," Vargas said.

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