Portland treasures its drinking fountains. Where are Berkeley's equivalents? Photo: TPapi

Peter Gleick is upset about the dwindling number of public drinking fountains in our communities and is determined to do something about it.

“It’s harder and harder to find public water fountains and there is bottled water everwhere,” Gleick, president and co-founder of the Pacific Institute and an internationally recognized water expert, told Berkeleyside.

Gleick became acutely aware of the decline of public drinking fountains when he was working on his book, Bottled and Sold, which was published last year. It’s a detailed look at our society’s “obsession” with bottled water. Part of the history Gleick recounts in the book is the growth of public drinking fountains from the late eighteenth century, when access to reliable water supplies was a rarity.

“There were huge celebrations when they were opened,” Gleick said. “You couldn’t call a city civilized unless it had public drinking fountains.”

We no longer need the public fountains for reliable water — that comes out of the faucets in every home. But Gleick wants to see a revival of the free public fountain as an alternative to the commodification and environmental burden of bottled water. To that end, he has teamed up with Google to create a smartphone app to both map and find public drinking fountains.

Gleick and the Google developers are planning to beta test the app in a couple of cities and, as a long-time Berkeleyan, Gleick wants to start in Berkeley. He’s looking for a dozen people who would be willing to try the app, and actively go around Berkeley recording the public water fountains that still exist.

Testers will need to have a Gmail account, a Picasa account and an Android phone (Gleick said he eventually plans to have an iPhone app, but the free use of developers at Google made starting with Android an obvious choice). Gleick and the developers are hoping the testers will both build the drinking fountain map and provide valuable feedback on the usability of the app.

If you’re interested in being on the ground floor of this exciting exercise in crowd-sourced mapping, providing important information for the thirsty — and environmentally conscious — in our community, send an email to Gleick from your Gmail account.

Gleick said that the app will be open source and free and is backed by the non-profit Pacific Institute. Berkeleyside will report back on the research findings.

Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...