City Council Member Erik Bottcher is set to introduce a bill Thursday designed to launch a pilot program to retrofit fire hydrants into water fountains.
Photo Credit: Gerardo Romo / NYC Council Media Unit.
A Manhattan lawmaker aims to launch a pilot program that would retrofit some fire hydrants around the city with drinking fountains through legislation he’s set to introduce Thursday, the details of which were shared exclusively with amNewYork Metro.
The lawmaker, City Council Member Erik Bottcher (D-Manhattan), will introduce the bill during the council’s bi-weekly Stated Meeting on Feb. 8.
Bottcher, in an interview, said the program is intended to provide people with alternatives to buying plastic bottled water.
“New Yorkers need to break our addictions to single-use plastics,” Bottcher said.
The council member, citing studies, said that disposable plastic water bottles have a negative impact on the environment, as they are manufactured with fossil fuels like oil and often end up in landfills where they can take hundreds of years to decompose. Many plastic bottles also end up in the ocean, Bottcher said, with studies indicating that there is likely to be more plastic in the oceans than fish by 2050.
Additionally, the council member cited other recent studies that found plastic bottled water contains millions of particles of microplastics, which could have negative health effects.
“People have this notion that bottled water is healthier, but [New York] water is some of the freshest on the planet,” he said.
The council member said it makes sense why New Yorkers buy bottled water en masse, it is cheap and widely available. Furthermore, carrying around a reusable water bottle can be far less convenient.
“We need to make it more convenient,” Bottcher said. “And I have seen that there were other cities that have retrofitted fire hydrants into drinking fountains, Montreal, other cities around the world. We should be doing that here in New York City also.”
In addition to Montreal, the hydrant retrofits have been tested or installed in cities including Calgary, Canada, and Budapest, Hungary, according to a 2019 article by Urban Omnibus.
Architect Tei Carpenter and designer Chris Woebken proposed several designs for retrofitting hydrants into water fountains in 2018, according to a published report. They were inspired by the city Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Water on the Go program, which connects trough-like drinking fountains to hydrants in well-trafficked areas for limited periods.
The pilot program under Bottcher’s bill would be crafted by heads of the FDNY and DEP, according to a draft of the bill shared with amNewYork Metro. It directs the agencies to retrofit at least five hydrants with drinking fountains in each of the five boroughs and make the fountains operational from at least April to September during the years of the pilot.
The FDNY and DEP would choose hydrants that are most feasible to retrofit as well as those with ample foot traffic, he said.
The program must start no later than two years after the legislation goes into effect and should run for two years after it officially starts, according to the bill.
There are a variety of ways the retrofits can be designed, including standard drinking fountains, those that can fill reusable water bottles and even models with built-in bowls for dogs to drink out of.
Bottcher said the city should hold a public competition to choose the best design for the attachable fountains.
“We have an incredibly talented design community, one of the best in the world in fact, and they can produce some really great concepts,” Bottcher said.
The FDNY would make sure that any design chosen does not interfere with using hydrants to extinguish fires, according to Bottcher.
A spokesperson for Bottcher said the pilot could be funded through DEP’s budget or the council’s capital budget, but it is still too early in the process to know. They added that the program’s cost will not be clear until a design for the fountains is selected.
Making tap water more accessible through the hydrant retrofits, he said, can also help people wean themselves off sugary drinks like soda and bring communities closer together.
“We picture neighbors gathering around a fire hydrant, filling up their water bottles, chatting and building connections,” he said. “Neighbors could chat while their dogs sip from a built-in dog all at the foot of the water fountain. There’s so many possibilities.”