Water Wagon Promotes Sustainability, Confidence in Local Water Supply

Water Wagon Promotes Sustainability, Confidence in Local Water Supply
The Water Wagon is kid-friendly, with easy-to-reach tap handles.

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Editor’s note: Look for a full profile on Madison Water Utility in the February 2015 issue of Municipal Sewer & Water ("Nothing for Granted") to learn more about the city's sustainability efforts. 

If you go to an outdoor event in Madison, Wis., next summer, you won’t need to bring a bottle of commercial water with you. Bring a refillable bottle instead, and fill up at the Madison Water Utility’s cool and fancy Water Wagon.

The Water Wagon is a unique trailer that was custom designed to be hooked up to a fresh water supply — such as a drinking fountain — enabling kids and adults to fill up their reusable water bottles with some of Madison’s finest H20.

The Madison Water Utility connects with customers in many ways: replacing lead service lines to customers’ homes, installing a new advanced in-home metering system and organizing a citizens advisory panel. But nothing brings the clean water message to citizens like the Water Wagon. 

The wagon provides fresh, free water to thousands of people throughout the city at summer festivals, fun runs, neighborhood picnics and more. It showcases the quality and taste of Madison’s tap water while helping prevent the spread of disposable plastic water bottles, which end up in landfills.

Project engineer Kelly Miess states on the utility’s website, “People want access to water. They like that they don’t have to go buy some bottled water. A lot more people are carrying reusable bottles, and they can just fill up. It’s cold. It’s easy.”

“Kids love it,” adds the utility’s public information officer Amy Barrilleaux, noting that the Water Wagon is in high demand at summer events in and around Madison.


Maybe best of all, the utility designed the wagon themselves. Mike Draper — the utility’s experienced welder — built the Water Wagon from scratch, says Barrilleaux. He purchased axels and wheels and fabricated the frame and body. It features bold graphics, large tap handles and a traditional drinking fountain, in addition to the bottle refilling stations.

The project followed a fruitless search for a similar trailer at other water utilities. Finally, with advice from the Illinois chapter of the American Water Works Association, which had built a bottle refilling station, Madison designed and built its own wagon.

Miess says the Illinois group offered good advice. One of the lessons learned was that the water got too warm when exposed to the summertime sun, so Madison decided to incorporate a heat exchanger into its design to cool the water. The utility also made sure the unit was not too heavy to be hauled around behind a car or truck.

In High Demand

The Wagon made its debut in 2012, but it took a year before the unit really began making an impact with event organizers. Last year, community organizations requested that the Water Wagon crowds gathered.

An example is Jack Kear with Willy Street Co-op, who was interested in a sustainable way to supply water to the 4,000 to 5,000 people who attend the cooperative’s annual membership party. In the past, the party relied on cooling stations with jugs of water from a commercial supplier, but the supply was never enough for the huge crowds that attended the event. Kear says the wagon helped ensure the safety of attendees by keeping them hydrated on hot days. The group is also able to stay true to its goal of reducing the amount of waste that is being returned to the environment. 

Janelle Palmer, who organizes the annual Paddle and Portage event in Madison, is also concerned about the environmental impact of bottled water. Having the Water Wagon at her event reduces carbon footprint immensely and saves time, energy and money, she says.

Boosting Confidence

Barrilleaux says there’s no better tool for public outreach. She says the Water Wagon helps demonstrate sustainability by promoting the local water source and cutting down on waste. In addition, she notes that Madison Water Utility staff members usually accompany the wagon at the public events. Their appearance gives the public an opportunity to talk face-to-face with utility professionals about their water supply, get their questions answered and bolster their confidence in the utility.


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