Boston Water Highlights Public Education and Hydration on Wheels

Boston’s water utility deploys a water truck that keeps residents hydrated at events while helping them appreciate award-winning tap water

Boston Water Highlights Public Education and Hydration on Wheels

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The Boston Water and Sewer Commission’s water truck has been putting on a lot of miles for nearly 10 years, going to events and providing hydration to attendees.

The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority provides award-winning tap water to the 650,000 residents of Boston. Sewage from the community goes to the Deer Island Wastewater Treatment Plant. 

Keeping the chill

John Sullivan, chief engineer for Boston Water, attended an AWWA show where a water truck was on display. He thought the commission could use something like it to showcase the utility’s great tasting tap water.

Sullivan came back from the conference and presented his idea to the executive team, who approved it. The staff then hunted for a supplier and found a company in Florida that retrofitted a beer trailer unit into what would be known as, simply, The Water Truck.

The unit creates opportunities to tell event attendees where Boston tap water comes from and how it is processed. It includes four drinking fountains, six taps, and two pet bowls and is handicap accessible.

It is self-contained with its own generator, but staff members like to park it near an electrical outlet if possible. The water is chilled to 38 degrees, and the tank can hold the chill for up to eight hours. The 725-gallon tank rarely runs dry at an event.

Traveling teacher

The unit appears in up to 200 events per season and is staffed by two to three utility team members, depending on event size. Typically, staff members bring a canopy booth and hand out flyers on where the Boston tap water comes from. They also distribute reusable water bottles and other items.

“We have a high-quality product, and it’s a convenient, affordable option for our citizens,” says James Faretra, deputy director of communications. Boston’s water is tested daily by the MWRA laboratory for more than 120 contaminants.

The utility estimates that at an event when the tank is used up, 5,400 single-use plastic water bottles are eliminated. The truck shows up at events that include food festivals, parks department activities, senior events, Boston Housing Authority events, camps for kids, and concerts on City Hall Plaza. It also appears at the city’s large July 4 celebration.

Besides teaching attendees about Boston’s water and its treatment, the staff uses events to present the commission’s four main messages:

-Keep fats, oil, and grease out of drains.

-Keep wipes out of pipes.

-Do not put waste into catch basins.

-Scoop the poop — pick up after your pet.

“We use the truck as a teaching tool,” says utility spokesperson Tom Bagley. “At the children’s events, the kids run up to the truck and we tell them about our water and what they can do to be good environmental stewards. They are attentive listeners. They go home and teach their parents about our four main messages.”

Keep on truckin'

In addition to events, the truck is deployed around the city when water mains break and residents are temporarily without tap. The truck pulls up and stays until the break is repaired; people bring plastic containers, fill them up and take the water home. The truck also helps homeless people by showing up on hot days and during heat emergencies to keep those residents hydrated.

A sandwich board next to the truck displays graphics that tell where the city’s water comes from so that residents can learn about the urban water cycle. The Water Truck’s motto is: “Fill. Drink. Repeat.”

Because of the unit’s popularity, the commission has plans for another, called The Buggy and designed for smaller events. It will hold about half as much as The Water Truck and will be more practical to transport around the city.

The utility provides paper cone cups for people who don’t have a water bottle, and at some events staff members hand out reusable plastic bottles with the utility’s logo.

“Residents appreciate the unit,” says Faretra. “Younger people carry reusable plastic water bottles wherever they go, so they love the convenience.” Those who see the unit comment what a great idea it is: “We have gotten a very positive interaction with the community.”  


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