Drinking Water Week 2020—running through May 9—revolves around the theme There When You Need It, recognizing the water sector professionals working tirelessly to make certain tap water is top-quality and readily available.

We have been highlighting the people and work it takes to ensure you have high-quality water when you need it, and our Philly tap fans have had fun joining in too.

Now, as a Drinking Water Week #FlashbackFriday special, we’re reflecting on Philly Water Bar's first year. You may have spotted our signature popup at dozens of events—from river festivals and science museums to street fairs and, of course, City Hall.

While it officially debuted in April 2019, its journey from a concept to one of our most popular activities and an incredible vehicle for having meaningful conversations with tap skeptics goes back further.

A Wellspring of Inspiration

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Two years ago, Tiffany Ledesma, leader of our Public Engagement team, worked with Water Department staff on the U.S. Water Alliance and Artplace publication, Advancing One Water Management through Arts & Culture. Through the process, Ledesma learned of the Minneapolis Water Bar and later met the founders, the Water Bar & Public Studio, at the 2018 One Water Summit.

We Will Meet Again. Be There.

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A nonprofit which describes itself as an artist-run space "fashioned as a bar or taproom dedicated to building cross-sector relationships around water," Ledesma was awestruck by how the project cultivated personable interactions between the tap-tenders providing free water and curious tap-imbibing patrons.

"The water bar concept provided a proactive opportunity to reach out to individuals one-on-one," she says. "We were inspired by the human element associated with the water bar and got the blessing of the Minneapolis founders to bring it to life in Philadelphia."

Instead of just reacting to customer concerns, Ledesma wanted to proactively reach out to people in their communities with a positive, fun message. A bar that served only water stuck out as the perfect way to do just that.

With the Water Bar & Public Studio’s support, the concept flowed to the streets of Philly, where Ledesma and the team brewed their own formula for a water bar

“The water bar allows for real interactions and personal interactions,” says Hailey Stern, a member of the PWD Public Engagement team. “I always find that making those connections is so much stronger than just reading about something. It facilitates real understanding. We can have open and honest conversations. We see how PWD can really improve in getting people to trust the water we drink everyday."

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Pouring into Communities + Beyond

During the development, we picked up a new class of bartenders: our 2019 Drink Philly Tap ambassadors.

A group of 18 city residents selected for their amazing ability to engage with members of their communities, the ambassadors helped a new partnership called Drink Philly Tap achieve its mission of empowering residents with information and knowledge to choose drinking tap water.

“Through those face-to-face interactions, we were able to give out a lot of the facts...We were able to relay some of our own stories to them,” says ambassador Leon Sanford. “Some of the people are still on the fence about [water quality], and that’s okay. We’re the carriers of information, so we’re not here to force it on anybody, but we just want people to know the facts.”

Drink Philly Tap Ambassadors

“I found that most people are either one way or another,” adds ambassador Michael Wilcox, a North Philly-based environmental and community revitalization advocate. “...Early on, we realized our mission was just to provide information—not to battle or necessarily sway anyone.” 

The Philly Water Bar also helps our Public Engagement Team address an issue revealed by annual customer surveys. Responses going back to 2016 showed that nearly 40 percent of residents drink bottled water at home rather than tap.

The survey also showed those with the least disposable income are the most likely to spend their money on stocking the fridge with bottled water at home, leaving many residents out of the savings you can get by choosing tap. (At just about half a cent per gallon, it’s a hard deal to beat.)

These findings helped shape the water bar’s mission of empowering communities through tap education.

“Everyone was a little disheartened by the survey results,” says Maura Jarvis, a member of PWD’s Public Engagement team. “To me, I don’t think I was necessarily surprised by the findings. Just having those conversations in my own family, I understand what those myths and misunderstandings are. The only way to break down those barriers is through conversation, and the Philly Water Bar creates an opportunity to connect with people.”

Following the well-attended, well-covered launch of the Philly Water Bar at the City Hall courtyard last April, the popup effort engaged and quenched the thirst of nearly 4,700 people at 34 local events through January 2020, including the Overbrook Night Market, SciChella at the Franklin Institute, and the wrap-up celebration of Drink Philly Tap at Yards Brewing Company.

Philly Water Bar

Whether it’d be locals painting a mural or the Phillie Phanatic romping around Center City, the team served and educated thirsty Philadelphians—and even learned a few things of their own.

“I was surprised by how appreciative they were,” Ledesma says. “Even just for a few seconds, the impact seemed great. Just adding that touch of the human element can really make a difference in the perception of water and in the quality of the product. The gesture of offering water for free on a hot day creates a really nice atmosphere for the person coming up to the water bar.”

Commissioner Hayman, Phanatic at Philly Water Bar

A Refreshing Road Ahead

When it’s safe to return, the Philly Water Bar will be back.

Though slowing the spread of COVID-19 means no public events at this time, we look forward to not only pouring fresh Philly tap again but continuing our passion for creating community bonds.

Best of Tap event

In the not-so-distant future, we hope to see our water bar reprising its appearances at PWD events, including at the eventual unveiling of our Drink More Tap murals—another new creative engagement tool to inform about the safe, environmentally-friendly, and affordable aspects of tap water consumption.

“At the end of the day, the water bar is a fun thing that PWD does,” Jarvis says. “Who thinks that their water department is setting up a bar and talking to people on a hot day? It’s fun talking about water—I love it. When this is over, people will want interactions with other humans. People will be excited to just connect with each other and talk...Having that human element helps spread the message.”

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