| Philadelphia Water seeks surge in tap water enthusiasts
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Philadelphia Water seeks surge in tap water enthusiasts

To increase local support for drinking home-town tap water instead of bottled water, the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) and three partner nonprofit organizations have launched the Drink Philly Tap Coalition.

Other coalition partners are ImpactED (University of Pennsylvania), The Water Center at Penn (founded and directed by Howard Neukrug, former Water Commissioner of Philadelphia Water pitcherPhiladelphia Water and honorary AWWA member) and PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center. (Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Water)

The William Penn Foundation is sponsoring Drink Philly Tap because of its commitment to protecting the local environment and waterways and reducing stormwater pollution caused by single-use plastic water bottles.

The coalition’s goal is to educate and build trust in order to convince 10,000 Philadelphia residents to “Take the Tap Pledge” and choose to drink tap water instead of bottled. Its strategy is to get out the message through multiple approaches that tap water is safe, healthy and more affordable and environmentally friendly than bottled water.

Drink Philly Tap has recruited community ambassadors, is engaging with employers and professional organizations, and launching a public education campaign that will include several citywide events.

“We want to empower residents in Philadelphia with information and knowledge to choose tap water over bottled water,” said Tiffany Ledesma, PWD’s public engagement team manager. “We have high quality tap water, so people don’t need to spend money on bottled water.”

PWD, a utility member of the American Water Works Association for more than 50 years, began water system service in 1801 and provides drinking water, wastewater and stormwater services in the Greater Philadelphia region. The water system serves about 1.7 million people and the wastewater system serves about 2.2 million people.

Surveys conducted by PWD and ImpactED over the past several years indicate that about 40 percent of city residents, many of them with lower incomes, are skeptical of the safety of the tap water and drink bottled water at home instead.

Drink Philly Tap Water Ambassadors

Philly Water ambassadorTo encourage residents to drink more tap water and less bottled water, the coalition hired and trained a corps of 20 local Tap Water Ambassadors to attend local events and champion the message that Philadelphia tap water is safe, affordable and sustainable.

The Tap Water Ambassadors were selected in March from more than 600 applicants for the position, which pays up to $600. They are working through the end of the year to conduct community presentations and collect resident pledges to drink tap water. (At left, Tap Water Ambassador Leon Sanford, photo courtesy of Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The coalition also is encouraging faith-based leaders, educators, nonprofits and others to support its messages to increase trust in tap water.

“We’re building trust in tap water at the local community level by spreading our messages through trusted, local voices instead of the water department,” said Hailey Stern, a planner with PWD. “Our ambassadors are meeting with neighbors in their communities to educate them about Philadelphia’s tap water, which consistently meets and exceeds standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency.”

Ambassadors are also distributing information about PWD’s free program to check homes for lead. If lead is found in a service line or within older homes’ plumbing systems, residents can apply for a five-year, interest-free loan to replace the affected materials. In addition, if PWD is replacing a water main and finds lead in a service line, it will replace the line from main to meter for free.

Philly Water Bar
Philly Water Bar
PWD also is sponsoring a weekly lunchtime pop-up Philly Water Bar throughout the summer, giving away glasses filled with refreshing, ice-cold tap water at busy sites such as City Hall. It’s a fun opportunity for locals to try out tap water and learn that its price – about a half cent per gallon – is way less than bottled water, which is close to $2 for 16.9 ounces.

“What better way to build trust and educate our residents than by helping them quench their lunchtime thirst with a free taste of our high-quality tap water,” said PWD’s Ledesma.