Rebranding Tap Water: NYC Water-On-the-Go Campaign

More articles on the controversy surrounding bottled water can be found here!

On a recent walk along New York City’s Union Square Park, I came across a beautiful sight: walking in 95-degree humid heat, I saw fountains and fountains of cold, clean, and free drinking water.  A city employee, wearing a ‘NYC Water’ t-shirt, urged me to hydrate and drink some of “the best tap water in the world.”  Not used to such humidity and heat, I took this as a much-welcomed request (I live in San Francisco where it is 60 degrees as I write this).

After some prolonged gulps, I heard the man explain the virtues of New York City’s tap water: “It’s Healthy, It’s Affordable, It’s Green, and It’s Convenient.”  New Yorkers profess that their tap water is indeed “the purest and tastiest” in the world.  This summer, the New York Department of the Environment is rolling out an environmental education campaign on city streets to inform residents of just that–and to discourage people from buying bottled water.

Leon Kaye covered the story earlier this month, but to recap: The city’s Water-On-the-Go program sets up water fountains in high-traffic, visible locations at public plazas, greenmarkets and parks around Manhattan.  The Water-On-the-Go fountains first appeared on July Fourth and will continue to pop up around the city until Labor Day.

Three-thousand miles away in San Francisco, another city that claims to have “the best tap water in the nation,” another anti-bottled water education campaign is underway.  Last December, the San Francisco Department of the Environment announced partnerships with GlobalTap and TapIt to promote “on the go” access to the city’s great-tasting Hetch Hetchy water–and to reduce waste from the use of plastic bottled water.  GlobalTap’s drinking water refilling stations and TapIt’s list of restaurants and cafes where people on-the-go can refill their water bottle make access to clean tap water convenient .  Both projects are also in line with San Francisco’s official stance on bottled water; in 2007 Mayor Gavin Newsom banned the purchase of bottled water in city offices.

From the Catskill Mountains to the Hetch Hetchy Valley, clean (and free) drinking water flows into people’s homes and out of faucet taps.  But still, more than half of all Americans purchase $4 billion in bottled water each year–even though most bottled water is pretty much the same as tap water.  Despite the creativity and visibility of  New York City’s and San Francisco’s “water on the go” campaigns, I wonder: will these programs convince people to let go of their designer bottled water, and instead fill up with tap?

What do you think makes an effective environmental education campaign?  Let us know; post your comments below!

Nayelli Gonzalez

Nayelli Gonzalez is Managing Director of Marketing & Strategic Partnerships at, a capacity building organization that supports the growing ecosystem of impact-focused conveners, accelerators, and mappers. A sustainability innovation strategist and storyteller dedicated to purpose-driven work, Nayelli has advised startups, nonprofits, small businesses and Fortune 500 companies to drive engagement and amplify positive impact in the world. She's a trained journalist with an MBA who writes on sustainable business and social impact trends for a variety of publications.

14 responses

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  2. I love this concept. I wonder if it's the beginning of the end for bottled water, at least in cities with good tap water. The city has a good profit motive in terms of avoiding dealing with disposing of the bottles, but I feel like they could do one better by selling re-usable containers of some kind with that logo on them, get a few celebrities and the mayor to walk around with them and you'll start the next trend…

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  4. I have always drank tap water and very rarely purchased bottled water. My tap water is usually so much better than the bottled and nothing beats getting up at night for a drink of cold cold water coming out of the tap. :)

  5. It's true that water here in NYC is great, but the reason is that we have to have it pumped from upstate through giant underground aqueducts in order to meet the demand for the city. At the same time, an island that is almost entirely impervious hardscape collects almost none of its stormwater for irrigation or cleaning instead of using that valuable resource that travels 200-300 miles to get here. Though undoubtedly better than buying bottled water, the city still has room to improve its water lifecycle.

  6. Don' drink it if it is coming from areas where Natural Gas “Fracking” is happening!!!

    “US Fracking Controversy

    As a sign of just how controversial hydraulic fracturing has become in the US, Exxon Mobil Corp.'s December $29 billion takeover of fracking specialist XTO Energy Inc. includes a clause stating that any changes to US law that make fracking “illegal or commercially impracticable” would allow the companies to terminate their deal without paying a $900 million breakup fee.

    By 2007, there were 449,000 natural gas wells in 32 US states, an increase of more than 30 percent since 2000, with serious episodes of groundwater contamination near drilling sites documented in seven states.

    Companion legislation (S.1215/H.R.2766) – the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act – is currently before Congress to require regulation of hydraulic fracturing under the federal US Safe Drinking Water Act, as well as disclosure of all chemicals used in fracking fluids. New York City Council, the mayor of New York, and a New York Times editorial have all called for a ban on hydraulic fracturing throughout the watershed from which the city obtains its drinking water.

    That watershed is part of the huge Marcellus shale area being staked out for natural gas drilling and fracking of tens of thousands of wells.”

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  8. In case you can't be bothered this HISTORIC link!!

    New York City officials, who oppose drilling anywhere near the watersheds that supply drinking water to the city, welcomed the vote. Councilman James F. Gennaro, head of the City Council’s environmental protection committee, called it “a historic victory for all New Yorkers.”

    “Speaker Quinn and I urge the Assembly to follow the lead of the Senate and for Governor Paterson to sign this historic first-in-the-nation hydraulic fracturing moratorium bill,” he said, referring to Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker.”

    Come on Assembly, do your bit!!!!!……. at least ban it quick then wait until The Environmental Protection Agency is done with it's hearings on the effects of hydrofracking (a national study).

    If you haven't ever seen water onfire…



  9. This is funny. Every major city in the country has to provide tertiary treatment to their water to protect the public. New York doesn’t do this beacuse they claim it would be too expensive. EPA gave them a waiver on this. So now, NYC buys up land in the Catskills to protect that withdrawl point – land that community can no longer use for any reason, or even tax,. Funny part is, on the way to New York, some of the infrastructure is in such bad shape, that the beautiful purity is likely ruined. Wouldn’t that money be better spent by implementing the proper water protection rules everyone else has to implement?

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