During orientation week, all first-year students are given a welcome package that includes a reusable water bottle. This policy can be traced back to 2008, when the student organization Beyond the Bottle pushed the University to scale back its use of disposable water bottles. Today, Brown Dining Services does not sell plastic bottles of water, and students are encouraged to fill and drink from reusable water bottles. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done, as many buildings do not have water bottle filling stations in close proximity.
Several buildings across campus lack water bottle filling stations, including the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs and the Center for Information Technology. More egregiously, none of the three first-year dorms in Keeney Quadrangle — which houses 600 students and constitutes the “largest self-contained residential unit on campus” — contain even a single water bottle filling station. This means that students working and residing in these buildings need to venture elsewhere to fill their bottles or resort to buying bottled water or filters. This poses unnecessary challenges for students and community members as they try to stay hydrated.
It goes without saying that all students should have easy access to safe drinking water. Providence, however, has a track record of elevated lead levels in drinking water. At higher risk of lead contamination are buildings built before 1947 — including many of the University’s residence halls. Students have previously complained about visibly discolored water in halls such as the Graduate Center and Perkins Hall.
A number of students interviewed by The Herald have voiced doubts about the quality of the drinking water from kitchen and bathroom sinks. An Undergraduate Council of Students survey from earlier this year showed that a large majority of survey respondents ranked the importance of increasing access to water filling stations as “four or more on a scale of one to five,” with five designating the highest-priority issues. Though the sample size of this survey is small, it demonstrates at the very least that a significant number of students have been inconvenienced or troubled by the dearth of water stations. Of particular concern is the belief that tap water could contain lead: Though the University has tested samples of waters in each of the halls and found that they do not contain lead levels above the Environmental Protection Agency’s action level, even trace amounts of lead could have potential consequences for students’ health and well-being.
In response to these concerns, the UCS campus life committee has recently submitted a proposal to the Department of Facilities Management to add 10 new water stations around campus. There is no timeline for the implementation of the initiative, and Facilities Management has not yet accepted or approved it. But, while there remains a lot of work to be done to enact the proposal, we are optimistic that these additional water stations will significantly bolster the University’s efforts to enhance accessibility, student wellness and campus sustainability. We hope that the administration takes students’ concerns about drinking water seriously and acts on them soon. After all, it is long past time that all residential buildings — and frankly, all buildings — at Brown are equipped with a reliable source of clean water.
Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: Anuj Krishnamurthy ’19, Mili Mitra ’18, Rhaime Kim ’20 and Grace Layer ’20. Please send responses to this opinion to firstname.lastname@example.org and op-eds to email@example.com.