In 2019, humble tap water seemed to suddenly become a rising star.

Tap’s flooding of the zeitgeist came, in part, from a global outcry against the ever-growing tide of plastic litter filling our parks, streets, rivers, and oceans. As communities everywhere looked to eliminate plastic, places with good public drinking water like Philadelphia realized that few products seem more unnecessary than bottled water.

Then, there’s climate change.

Beyond reducing the litter we can see in our communities, more and more people are interested in cutting throw-away items like disposable water bottles from their routines because of the carbon footprint that comes with making, distributing and disposing of plastic.

With clean water pumped to every home, tap water in reusable bottles stands out as a great way to reduce the kind of pollution that's causing global warming.

Here at the Philadelphia Water Department, we have touted tap as a sustainable option for years, partnering with events like the Head of the Schuylkill Regatta to provide water and encourage refilling.

But in 2019, we ramped up our efforts to get more people drinking tap, and put more work into reaching people with concerns that go beyond sustainability. We did this in response to customer surveys showing that about 40 percent of Philadelphia residents drink bottled water at home.

And, while our top-quality water is an incredible bargain at just about a half a cent per gallon, residents who can least afford to spend money on single-use bottles are the most likely to do so.

From trust to uncertainty about quality to taste, there are many reasons people choose bottled water.

We realized we can do more to bust myths, provide resources about topics like lead pipes, link customers with our nationally recognized affordability programs, and inform people of these great facts:

  • Our water is safe and clean, meeting or beating all state and federal standards.
  • It's hundreds of times more affordable than bottled options.
  • It’s a healthy, sugar-free drink that reduces waste and pollution.

That is why we launched the Philly Water Bar—a fun pop-up space where you can get a free drink of Philly tap and learn facts about our top-quality water—started new projects with Mural Arts that focus on drinking water, and supported the creation of the Drink Philly Tap Ambassadors program.

Here’s a look at some highlights around tap water from 2019:

Philly Water Bar

Following a debut at City Hall this spring that made big news, the Philly Water Bar poured cold refreshing tap at 30 events and engaged nearly 4,500 people. On top of weekly appearances in the City Hall Courtyard, we took the show on the road and poured water for events in areas where people are the most likely to drink bottled water at home.

“The Philly Water Bar is a vibrant pop-up that allows us to build trust with customers. Just like the best neighborhood bars, we’re all about building relationships," says Tiffany Ledesma, leader of the PWD outreach team and driving force behind the pop-up. "Only here, you’re sampling delicious locally sourced tap water and we’re sharing how affordable, safe and eco-friendly this alternative to bottled water is in our city. We’re lucky to have high quality water in Philly, and our Water Bar is a friendly spot to connect with people and hopefully convert some of the naysayers.”

Here are some favorite moments:

Philly Water Bar at City Hall

Philly Water Bar @ City Hall!

Water Bar Norris Square Pop-Up

Water Woman Busting Myths

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Drink Philly Tap Ambassadors

Another project to bubble up in 2019 thanks to our research around drinking water habits was the Drink Philly Tap Ambassadors program.

We supported the launch of this program to empower Philadelphia residents with information and knowledge to choose drinking tap water over bottled water. The University of Pennsylvania's ImpactED, the Water Center at Penn, and the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center were our partners in the effort.

Over the course of the year, Drink Philly Tap recruited and trained 19 ambassadors from neighborhoods where many don't drink tap and collected an estimated 10,000 Drink Tap Pledges to date.

Ambassadors put in close to 500 hours of work and engaged +3,460 individuals on the topic of drinking tap water in 2019!

Here are some Tap Ambassador highlights:

Overbrook Night Market

Meeting Commissioner Hayman

2019 Delaware River Fest

Year-End Meeting

Have you taken the pledge yet?
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Philly Tap + Mural Arts

The Philadelphia Water Department has a long track record of using art to connect residents with waterways and infrastructure, from temporary street art to incredible murals like this one in West Philly at a rain garden and the 2018 "Water Gives Life" mural on Arch Street, a piece exploring the many ways water flows through our Philadelphia experience and daily life.

In a city known as the"mural capital of the world," how could we not embrace the Mural Arts Philadelphia as partners?!

In 2019, we kicked off two new mural projects designed to build conversations around the incredible value of having clean, safe tap water. Like our Philly Water Bar events, these murals are all about reaching communities where tap often isn't seen as a safe choice.

Both murals are the result of working with Mural Arts and El Salvador-born artist Carlos Lopez Rosa. They're also both being created at Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Centers, and are being shaped by photos of community members we are working with around tap water outreach.

At the Penrose Recreation Center, at 11th and Susquehanna, the neighborhood has already begun painting. At the Cruz Rec Center at 6th and Master, the process is just getting started and residents will have plenty of chances to get involved in 2020.

For more information about these murals or upcoming paint days, contact PWD Community Outreach Specialist Maura Jarvis
Here are some social media highlights from our drinking water mural projects in 2019:

Penrose Rec Mural

Cruz Mural Kickoff

Next up: We'll be looking at some of our 2019 infrastructure investments and strategic planning from 2019 so follow @PhillyH2O on social media and sign up for email/sms updates, or check back!