Refill Water Bottles for Free at Local Businesses (Poll)

DC’s new TapIt network provides free water-bottle-refilling stations throughout the city

Feel dehydrated no longer, Washington.

Earlier this month, a company called TapIt launched a water-bottle-refilling network in DC. The idea is simple: Pop in to a TapIt partner location, and you can refill your reusable water bottle for free.

TapIt launched in 2009 in New York City and quickly gained steam—the program was popular among busy (and thirsty) urbanites on the go. Other cities took notice: “What was really surprising was the interest across the country and around the world,” says Will Schwartz, TapIt’s campaign director. The concept has since expanded to cities in 22 states, plus DC. TapIt will add Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Copenhagen to its network later this year.

The DC system launched on June 1 with more than 60 businesses on board. You can download a static map with all the locations here [PDF], or search by street name to find one near you. There’s also a free iPhone app. The online finder includes details about the water stop, such as what kind of water it disperses (filtered, unfiltered), how cold it is (chilled, room temperature), and where it’s dispensed (self-serve soda fountain, at the counter).

The goal is to promote DC tap water as “high-quality, affordable, and reliable,” according to a statement issued by DC Water, which has partnered with TapIt on the project. The initiative also has an environmental component: to wean people off the millions of plastic water bottles that end up in landfills every year.

It could save you money, too. According to data from the Earth Policy Institute, Americans consumed an average of 30.2 gallons of bottled water per person in 2007, compared to less than two gallons in 1976. “If you drink a bottle of water with lunch every day, you could save about $700 a year by switching to tap,” says Schwartz. DC Water says its tap water costs less than a penny per gallon.

DC tap water came under fire in the past decade due to reportedly high levels of lead and other toxins. In 2004, the Washington Post reported that tap water in thousands of DC homes was found to be above the federal limit of 15 parts per billion, a threshold established by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1991; it was later discovered that a chemical added to the water beginning in 2001 was causing the lead concentration to rise. A 2009 study found that 42,000 DC children may have been exposed to unsafe levels of lead between 2001 and 2004.

DC Water insists that city tap water is safe to drink. Workers collect hundreds of samples every week for testing, and the results are reported to the EPA. The utility puts out an annual water-quality report, too. The next one's due out at the end of June.

In a public letter on the DC Water Web site, general manager George S. Hawkins writes, “Testing has shown our water to comply with federal lead standards since 2005, and the results have even improved over time.” Schwartz says TapIt only works in cities that enforce stringent water-safety rules and testing.

Most of the TapIt locations are clustered downtown, but there are a handful in Upper Northwest—a Potbelly on Connecticut Avenue near the Van Ness Metro stop and the Davenport Coffee Lounge at American University—and two east of the Anacostia River: Big Chair Coffee and Yes! Organic Market. Schwartz says TapIt will begin adding new locations within the month.

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