New Zealand researchers are calling for more drinking water fountains in public playgrounds and parks, to provide healthy options in contrast to sugary drinks and also to cater for an increased risk of heat waves.
There are just 34 public drinking fountains across Tauranga City and 14 in the Western Bay of Plenty district. Most of them are located in high traffic areas and reserves where people are active.
The University of Otago’s campus in Wellington has published a study in the latest issue of the New Zealand Medical Journal that found only one of 17 councils in the lower North Island had drinking fountains that worked in all the playgrounds sampled in their area.
Eight of the council areas had no fountains at all in any of the playgrounds sampled.
The researchers also found the fountain quality varied greatly, with discolouration of the metal surround and one with grass growing out of the drainage sink.
One of the study authors, Professor Nick Wilson, says in an era of climate change with increased risk of heat waves, drinking water in public places will be an increasingly important civic investment.
“Ideally, government should consider regulations that require at least one drinking water fountain in all New Zealand playgrounds and parks,” says Nick, “especially those with sports fields.”
The study authors say that good access to drinking water in outdoor public places is also becoming recognised internationally as a health issue, due to the need to provide healthy options in contrast to sugary drinks, which contribute to obesity and rotten teeth.
Mark Smith, manager of parks and recreation for Tauranga City Council, says all 34 of the city’s public water fountains are in good condition.
“We recognise that drinking fountains are an important part of a happy, healthy and active city,” he says, “so there is an ongoing project to install four more water fountains per year until 2024, with priority given to reserves that have both playgrounds and sports facilities in them.”
Western Bay of Plenty District Council reserves and facilities manager, Peter Watson, says the council agrees that access to water is important in public places, but also recognises that it is increasingly common for people to carry water in personal containers.
“We agree that fountains are a good investment where demand is demonstrated – for example in areas that have high public use. A fountain is approximately $1500 to replace.”
Peter says all WBOPDC fountains are in good working order and are regularly inspected by contractors, however they are sometimes the target of vandalism.