Bring your own water: Denver's public drinking fountains are off for the foreseeable future
Last summer, Denver’s map of working water fountains was patchy. The two summers before that — 2021 and 2020 — the city turned them off completely because of the pandemic.
This summer, drinking fountains will be off again for the foreseeable future due to staffing issues.
“Staffing wise, we’ve had some incredible challenges with just staffing and it’s not an excuse, it’s just the reality and so we had to make some priorities,” said Parks and Recreation Deputy Executive Director Scott Gilmore. “We’re down some plumbers, and so there’s some things that we just have not been able to activate.”
There is one water source Denver has been able to activate: public fountains. Gilmore said the fountains must stay on because they have old pipes, which need to be used seasonally or they could become damaged. He said the City Park fountain is undergoing repairs.
Homeless activists regularly criticize Denver for a lack of public bathrooms and water fountains, making daily life even more difficult for people living on the streets. Plus, there is the increasing heat. Denver health officials issued an extreme heat alert Monday for temperatures in the mid- to high-90s all week.
“We heard from community members expressing that the lack of access to water in our city is one of the top issues to their safety & wellbeing,” said Mutual Aid Monday organizer Jess Wiederholt, who serves a weekly meal to people experiencing homelessness. “When the temperatures rise in our city we see extreme heat related illnesses. Unhoused and advocates want to know why this continues to be an issue.”
“This is an issue all year round,” Widerholt said. “Basic needs of some of the most vulnerable are not being met. This is not acceptable.”
Gilmore said the city has gotten the majority of its 30 bathrooms up and running, but that keeping bathrooms in operation is challenging.
“At any one time about 15 of them are closed due to vandalism or theft,” he said “The washroom in the bathroom on the diagonal in Washington Park in the last 16 months, the toilets have been blown up four times… I lost two [portable toilets] in the last day. One was burned up and one was actually sawed in half.”
Gilmore said water fountains are similarly difficult to service because they break often and require regular maintenance from a plumber, which is why the current staffing challenges pose a problem.
Gilmore said a handful of water fountains in parks including dog parks may have been turned on accidentally, but that there is not a clear timeline for opening drinking fountains across the city.
He said the city got approval to fill the necessary jobs a few weeks ago, and that his office is in the process of hiring. Gilmore said the department does not have the budget to hire an outside contractor in the meantime.
“Bring your water bottle and fill it up before you come to the park,” he said.
Denverite reporter Desiree Mathurin contributed reporting.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated with Scott Gilmore’s full title.
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