Portland treasures its drinking fountains. Where are Berkeley’s equivalents? Photo: TPapi

Peter Gleick is upset about the dwindling number of public drinking fountains in our communities and is determined to do something about it.

“It’s harder and harder to find public water fountains and there is bottled water everwhere,” Gleick, president and co-founder of the Pacific Institute and an internationally recognized water expert, told Berkeleyside.

Gleick became acutely aware of the decline of public drinking fountains when he was working on his book, Bottled and Sold, which was published last year. It’s a detailed look at our society’s “obsession” with bottled water. Part of the history Gleick recounts in the book is the growth of public drinking fountains from the late eighteenth century, when access to reliable water supplies was a rarity.

“There were huge celebrations when they were opened,” Gleick said. “You couldn’t call a city civilized unless it had public drinking fountains.”

We no longer need the public fountains for reliable water — that comes out of the faucets in every home. But Gleick wants to see a revival of the free public fountain as an alternative to the commodification and environmental burden of bottled water. To that end, he has teamed up with Google to create a smartphone app to both map and find public drinking fountains.

Gleick and the Google developers are planning to beta test the app in a couple of cities and, as a long-time Berkeleyan, Gleick wants to start in Berkeley. He’s looking for a dozen people who would be willing to try the app, and actively go around Berkeley recording the public water fountains that still exist.

Testers will need to have a Gmail account, a Picasa account and an Android phone (Gleick said he eventually plans to have an iPhone app, but the free use of developers at Google made starting with Android an obvious choice). Gleick and the developers are hoping the testers will both build the drinking fountain map and provide valuable feedback on the usability of the app.

If you’re interested in being on the ground floor of this exciting exercise in crowd-sourced mapping, providing important information for the thirsty — and environmentally conscious — in our community, send an email to Gleick from your Gmail account.

Gleick said that the app will be open source and free and is backed by the non-profit Pacific Institute. Berkeleyside will report back on the research findings.

Lance Knobel

Lance Knobel (co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine in Britain,...

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  1. So Berkeleywalker, can you reveal where that “lovely” water fountain is? (Although I have to say it reminds me of a urinal more than anything!)

  2. Good try but no cigar … Here’s a clue: It’s in a building near City Hall that I believe was designed by Walter Ratcliff. I wonder if any other buildings he designed have fountains like this one.

  3. I don’t know where that is, but it’s really beautiful! The swirl design is a really nice touch. It looks almost like a ram’s head.

    Berkeley City Club?

  4. I think there are a couple drinking fountains in Ohlone Park. I know there are at least a few dog drinking fountains near the dog park there.

    I’m sure the public restrooms would get pretty gross, but if it could cut down on people poopin’ and peein’ in public it’d be a good thing. I’d hate to see Berkeley turn into the SoMa, where you have to dodge human feces on the sidewalk all the time.

  5. Most of the little local parks with playgrounds have one so you (and kids) can drink–Codornices, Willard, Totland, the one on Hopkins next to the school track, etc. Also, I noticed Caesar Chavez has one.

  6. There is a fountain next to the picnic table in stoneface park in north berkeley –between Yosemite rd, thousand oaks road. there is also a faucet at the bottom of the fountain and a rubber bowl for thirsty dogs.
    I’m not sure whether this is the right place for this info. If anyone knows where it’s supposed to go, please send it on.

  7. Speaking of drinking fountains, this has to be one of the loveliest in Berkeley. Anyone know where it is??

  8. Usually when you make claims of fact such as all those ones you just made you cite the source from which you acquired the facts. Also, opinions that are stated like facts lessen your credibility and weaken your position significantly. A causal relationship between “anti-business” city government and manufacturers relocating isn’t proof of anything. It is obviously cheaper to run a manufacturing business in the middle of nowhere, Nevada than in Berkeley. And what exactly is wrong with despising capitalism? It hasn’t exactly paid off very well for anyone in the world besides a couple of people at the top.

  9. I dont think ive ever seen a public fountain in Berkeley other than at Cal and BCC.

    To be honest, i dont think id want to use truly public restrooms in the city. Semi-public is best, imo. When downtown i usually go into a hotel, and outside of downtown i usually go into a cafe or something.

    However, they should probably have public restrooms with attendants in some high traffic areas, at least during the day. I read awhile back about a study showing that those green automated ones cost a lot more than one with an attendant would. Its ridiculous.

  10. Yes. On Frontage Road. You used to be able to see it from I-80 just before the racetrack exit.

  11. Sharkey, indeed. Our hope is that after we get this app tested and rolled out that the same kind of technical platform can be used for precisely what you suggest: public restroom locator!!

  12. A map of public restrooms would also be really helpful.

    I’m amazed at how much people in San Francisco complain about transients relieving themselves in public, and don’t bother to consider that a severe lack of public restrooms in such a densely populated area is largely to blame.

  13. From the Haws Web site http://www.hawsco.com/about/company-history

    Company History

    Luther Haws was a self-employed master plumber and sheet metal contractor, as well as a sanitation inspector, for the city of Berkeley, California. In 1906, while on his rounds at a public school, Luther noticed children drinking from a shared tin cup. This unsanitary though typical arrangement inspired the inventor in him. Using available parts, Luther Haws assembled the world’s first drinking faucet.

    The Berkeley School Department loved the idea and installed the first models. In 1909 Luther formed the Haws Sanitary Drinking Faucet Company, located in Berkeley, and obtained several patents. Thirsty Californians soon discovered Luther’s label on his fountains: “Haws Sanitary Drinking Faucet Company, Berkeley, California, Patent 1911.” Luther Haws’ innovative style still drives this third and fourth-generation family-owned company.

  14. In the late nineteenth century, they were called Temperance Fountains, and they were built in cities in the hope that they would encourage the working class to drink water rather than stopping for beer. There is still one in Thompkins Square Park in New York, a very nice neo-classical fountain with the inscription “Faith, Hope, Charity, Temperance.” See the picture at http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/tompkinssquarepark/monuments/1558

  15. The modern drinking fountain was invented in 1906 in Berkeley California by Luther Haws who felt it was unsanitary for Berkeley school children to drink water during recess from a shared tin cup. For 87 years from 1909 to 1996 Haws Drinking Faucet Company, the country’s largest drinking fountain producer, was located on Fourth Street in what was affectionately known as our “Manufacturing District”. But like many Berkeley employers and taxpayers, was chased out of the city by our anti-business city government in the nineties. How sad that Sparks Nevada has hundreds of well-paying jobs that we didn’t care about because our leaders despise capitalism so much.