Do you own a water bottle? Are you ever frustrated that traditional sinks and water fountains don’t allow you to refill it? Consider that problem a thing of the past at UMD. Recently, a combination of grant money and campus department collaboration solved the issue: a total of six bottle filling stations and 66 goose neck faucets were installed. With 1,200 uses at only one of the water filling stations during the first week of school, it’s apparent that a need has definitely been met.
But how did the UMD campus go from nearly zero access to good water for reusable bottles to 1,200 uses by a single filling station? The answer is a story about student activism, environmental grant money, and campus administrative support.
UMD student Sam Knuth was having a hard time getting enough H2O. Without a drinking fountain on his residence hall floor, he had to fill his water bottle in the dorm’s bathroom sink. The faucet was short, his bottle was tall. He was literally bending his water bottle to squeeze it under the faucet, making it a crumpled mess. Not to mention, he was a little freaked out by whatever germs could be making contact with his water bottle. “I was like, ‘This is so dumb. Let’s do something about this.’”
Meanwhile, on the other side of campus, Judy Breuer, a community health major in the College of Education and Human Service Professions, was conducting a survey to see how much water students were drinking. A member of UMD’s Student Health Advisory Committee, Judy found that many students living in the dorms were either not drinking water or were buying plastic water bottles. Survey participants cited a lack of water fountains as the reason. They explained that, like Sam, they either couldn’t fit their water bottle under the bathroom faucets or they were dissuaded by the idea of filling it up from the same sink that people were washing their hands. “There was a lot of concern about not being able to fill water bottles or being concerned that it’s not sanitary,” explained Judy.
One day Sam happened to overhear Judy talking about her survey. It was like chocolate meeting peanut butter in the old Reeses Peanut Butter Cup commercials. Judy qualified the need with her survey, Sam anecdotally saw the need. “This is something that bridges the divide,” said Sam. “The issue is right there, it needs to be solved for everybody who lives in the dorms.”
Sam, a marketing major at the Labovitz School of Business & Economics, is a member of Net Impact, a campus organization dedicated to creating solutions that satisfy environmental, social, and economic needs.
Net Impact and the Student Health Advisory Committee began collaborating, meeting with the departments of Sustainability, Environmental Education, Housing, and Facilities Management. “We were bringing people together from all over UMD,” said Sam.
During the 2012 spring semester, the group applied for a $3,000 grant from the Institute on the Environment to fund the project. They got it. The only problem? It wasn’t enough money. The $3,000 grant paid for about 12% of the total project cost. UMD Housing stepped forward.
Initially, Housing agreed to pay for two faucets for every one that was funded by the grant. In the end, and in line with Goal Six of the strategic plan, UMD Housing paid for $25,000 of the $28,000 project. “Housing and Residence Life was supportive of this project because it was a win-win opportunity for the department, for student residents, and for the student members of Net Impact,” says John Weiske, director of Housing and Residence Life. This is hydration made possible by the students, for the students.
Mindy Granley, director of Sustainability at UMD, gives all the credit to Sam, Judy, and their team. “Without students bringing forward the issue and finding the money, this would not have happened.”