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Phoenix tests new water fountains to provide chilled water year-round

A new pilot program in Phoenix is increasing public access to chilled water. The city recently installed two fountain prototypes downtown.

Just off Washington Street near Third Avenue, in Cesar Chavez Plaza, is a bright blue water fountain. On each side you can get a drink. In the middle, you can fill a bottle. 

“We don't have a lot of bells and whistles on them,” said Bob Murdock with Murdock Manufacturing, the company that designed and built the fountains. “They're all push-button operated. There's no sensor operation, there's no batteries to replace, there's no chance of, you know, corrosion and anything in the way of electronics.” 

The most critical piece of the $7,500 prototype is a chiller located inside the column.

“You have to have adequate ventilation inside the column and making sure that you have a good inflow and you have a good outflow,” Murdock said. “We’ve designed in and out passages for the air to move in and out without any obstructions of any kind.”

The bright blue fountain has a powder coating to reduce heat while the brushed steel fountain, across the street, next to City Hall, only has coating on the dispenser buttons — at least for now.

“It’s in an area that’s more shaded regularly from the building but we're going to be watching all of this,” said Michael Hammett, director of Phoenix’s office of innovation. ”These are the first two units, we wanted to get them modified up and running, tested, see how folks are using them.”

He said the locations were chosen because they’re near public transit and public buildings and have a history of heat-related emergency calls. 

“We have received complaints over the years from moms, from residents, from visitors, that the water might be as hot as the air in the summertime,” said  Councilwoman Yassamin Ansari.

Both fountains are in District 7, which Ansari represents.

“For us, this is imperative because access to cold clean drinking water has been sorely needed and I think far too long overlooked in Phoenix,” she said. “Our  public water fountains, whether they're in our parks, in our public facilities, and here outside City Hall, have far too long been nearly an empty gesture, especially in the hot summer months.”

"For us, this is imperative because access to cold clean drinking water has been sorely needed and I think far too long overlooked in Phoenix." — Councilwoman Yassamin Ansari

Restaurants often find themselves providing water to those in need. 

“If they’re clearly suffering from heat exhaustion or need water, we’re humans, we’re going to give them water, but it’s just not a sustainable practice,” said Teddy Myers, owner of Chico Malo at CityScape.

As downtown attracts more students, workers and visitors, the time and expense spent handing out cups of water can not only slow operations but potentially hurt sales.

“I mean, to have a front door full of homeless people asking for water while also trying to help our guests, it would be unsustainable, because they're not. That's not the first impression you want for guests coming in for a high-end experience,” Myers said.

"That's not the first impression you want for guests coming in for a high-end experience." — Teddy Myers, owner of Chico Malo

Ambassadors for Downtown Phoenix Inc, which provides services to businesses, including hospitality and homeless outreach, are letting people know about the new fountains. 

Devney Majerle, the group's president and CEO, said staff will also keep eyes on them, “And they will help to ensure that every day these water stations are clean, they’re well-maintained and they feel welcoming to those who want to use them.”

As city leaders announced the pilot program, Art Quiroz listened and tried a fountain.

“I think it’s fabulous,” he said. “I can drink it.”

But the true test will come this summer, as Murdock knows.

“I think Phoenix is going to be a challenge. I think many cities in the Sun Belt are going to be a greater challenge as time goes on with global warming,” he said. “And we can back up and go in the different direction if something doesn't work out correctly. We can redesign the enclosure, we can up the size of  the chiller, there’s different things that we can do.”

Once the chilled water system is perfected — or as close as it can get — Phoenix plans to add fountains throughout downtown and other parts of the city.

Both fountain locations are off Washington Street between First and Third avenues. The bright blue fountain is in Cesar Chavez Plaza, which is east of the Calvin C. Goode Municipal Building, 251 W. Washington St. The stainless steel fountain is in the Marvin A. Andrews Plaza, on the east side of City Hall, 300 W. Washington St.

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As a senior field correspondent, Christina Estes focuses on stories that impact our economy, your wallet and public policy.