PORTLAND — The venerable water fountain, invented in the early 1900s, has a 21st-century cousin that the Portland Water District is hoping will become very popular in southern Maine.
The district will provide free water bottle filling stations for businesses and nonprofit organizations through a new grant program announced at a press conference Aug. 29.
The stations are hygienic, high-tech machines that quickly and conveniently fill the ubiquitous plastic and metal bottles. Rather than trying to cram a bottle’s mouth under the spigot of a traditional fountain – an awkward, spill-prone maneuver – drinkers simply place their bottles under a nozzle. Activated by a touchless sensor, the station automatically dispenses a jet stream of water, typically filling a 16-ounce bottle in about five seconds.
“This is a good way to promote the good water we have,” Robert McSorley, vice president of the district Board of Trustees, said at the Portland International Jetport event. “It’s also a way to possibly eliminate a lot of the bottled waters going into our landfills.”
Two jetport stations were installed a couple years ago. Digital counters on the machines show they’ve been used a total of about 88,000 times, according to the water district – potentially preventing thousands of single-serve plastic bottles from entering the waste stream.
The district will devote $7,000 annually to providing the stations, for which businesses and nonprofits must file an application by Oct. 31. Officials believe the district is the first public water utility to fund such a program.
The grant will pay for only a few fountains each year, according to district spokeswoman Michelle Clements. Depending on the site and whether an existing water fountain is retrofitted, a station can cost as little as $500 or as much as several thousand dollars.
Preference will be given to applicants where there’s the potential for high-volume use, such as community centers or large office complexes, she said.
In Portland, the University of Southern Maine also has been using the stations. And across the country, at least a dozen other airports have similar devices.
The popularity of the the stations comes as people drink more and more water. Water accounted for around 30 percent of the average American’s beverage consumption in 2012, up from 16 percent two decades earlier, according to Beverage Marketing Corp. Nearly half of that water came from taps, including drinking fountains.
But fountains aren’t always easy to find. So, like camels, people began carrying their own water. For them, the stations are an “oasis.”
For Guy Cote, president of the district board, the stations are also a great advertisement for the area’s water quality.
“I do a lot of traveling, and I’m always anxious to come back home, mostly because of the water,” he said. “The water quality we have here easily matches what you’d find in bottled water, and in my opinion exceeds it.”
Guy Cote, board president of the Portland Water District, demonstrates the use of a water bottle filling station at Portland International Jetport, where a grant program funding free stations was announced.