UBC Undergraduate Research

Assessing access to drinking water at UBC Cheng, Andrea


As the world faces multiple sustainability challenges such as a growing global population, climate uncertainty, rising fossil fuel prices, and a shifting economic landscape, water security is yet another dilemma that must be addressed. The distribution and popularity of single-use bottled water have been under much scrutiny as it poses many negative environmental affects. In addition to the waste it generates, the energy needed to produce and transport disposable polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles is considerably higher than the energy needed to produce reusable water bottles and provide tap water. Like the rest of Vancouver, the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) Vancouver campus is striving to increase public access to drinking water and reduce the use of bottled water. A recent research project has determined public perceptions of the university’s tap water and found that there is campus support to become a bottled-water-free campus. More recent projects have evaluated the environmental and economic viability of UBC’s drinking water options. Based on the results and information gaps highlighted in these studies, this project will determine the baseline availability of drinking water options on campus and identify any deficiencies that are present. This project has the following objectives: • To conduct a literature review of best practices regarding how other notable campuses manage drinking water provision • To conduct a drinking water outlet inventory and evaluation to determine accessibility of tap water both within and outside of buildings. This involves a water fountain audit that completes the following tasks: ° Identifies accessibility of water outlets, the condition of drinking water outlets, water pressure, water aesthetics (colour, smell taste), type of outlet, proximity to washrooms, and whether the outlets can fill reusable water bottles ° Maps the locations of water fountains, water filling stations, and kitchenette sinks accessible to students ° Compares the water electrical conductivity and temperature of water between top and bottom floors of buildings and between 15-second flushes. • To analyze collected data and identify: ° Whether deficiencies exist in current drinking water access and develop associated recommendations ° Whether other water delivery methods are needed to improve water provision on campus In addition to the stated objectives, this report provides information on: • Recent research on UBC’s drinking water access • UBC’s water landscape • UBC’s water and safety • UBC’s technical guidelines regarding drinking water infrastructure • UBC’s Tap That campaign Literature review of best practices This section clearly outlines the procedures four Canadian post-secondary institutions have followed throughout their bottled water ban processes. It also identifies drinking water infrastructure and signage that other campuses use to provide free water to their populations. Effective informative tools such as webpages can clearly communicate institutional intentions and bottled-water policies, increase awareness of bottled water reductions, and address immediate inquiries from students and staff. Maps are extremely useful in informing the public of where drinking outlets on campus. Drinking Water Outlet Assessment The Drinking Water Outlet Assessment is the main component of this project, and encompasses an inventory and evaluation process of 197 drinking outlets from 59 buildings on campus. It provides a baseline representation of the availability, accessibility, functionality and appeal of UBC’s drinking water sources. The inventory and evaluation yields the following results: • Two thirds of the drinking water outlets evaluated are not visible from the main entrances of their respective buildings • The majority of drinking water outlets evaluated are visible to passing traffic within their respective buildings • 38% of drinking water outlets evaluated are situated within 5 meters of a washroom. • 56% of water outlets are very clean and appear well-maintained • 7% of drinking outlets are either dirty or have a substantial amount of residues on them. • 2% of water outlets do not work • 14% of water outlets have insufficient water pressure to avoid mouth contact with spigots • 62% of water outlets have sufficient pressure to create an arch where drinking occurs mid-stream and easily allows for bottle filling • Reusable bottles can be filled at 82% of the evaluated water outlets • 42% of the 171 water fountains evaluated have goosenecks for bottles • Water from 81% of the water outlets was colourless and free of air bubbles (initial flush) • Water from 14% of the water outlets had colour or air bubbles in the initial flush that was absent in the second flush 15 seconds after. Air bubbles dissipate after 30-40 seconds. • Water from 81% of evaluated water outlets had no unpleasant tastes upon initial flush • Mean 1-Litre fill times decrease as water pressure increases • Mean 1-Litre fill times of goosenecks are shorter than the fill times of spigots In response to these results, the following goals are recommended to increase free drinking water accessibility on UBC’s Vancouver campus: Goal 1: Improve the infrastructure and maintenance as well as increase convenience of tap water usage available on campus Goal 2: Increase awareness and promotion of tap water available on campus Goal 3: Continue research on and monitoring of drinking water access on campus Although drinking water infrastructure is highly available on campus, there are deficiencies in outlet maintenance and public awareness of free drinking water options. If the appropriate signage and informative tools are applied, the university’s population will be empowered to make more ecologically responsible drinking water choices. Though the campus has made significant progress in adopting sustainable water consumption practices, there are still more milestones to be conquered on the journey to becoming a bottled-water-free community. The success of the this vision will require the cooperation and open-mindedness of students and staff as well as the awareness that all members of the university’s population have an important role to play in ensuring this vision is achieved. Disclaimer: “UBC SEEDS provides students with the opportunity to share the findings of their studies, as well as their opinions, conclusions and recommendations with the UBC community. The reader should bear in mind that this is a student project/report and is not an official document of UBC. Furthermore readers should bear in mind that these reports may not reflect the current status of activities at UBC. We urge you to contact the research persons mentioned in a report or the SEEDS Coordinator about the current status of the subject matter of a project/report.”

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