by Cheryl Jackson Thursday March 22, 2012

The Water Brothers have developed a new app that tells you where you can get free water in Toronto. I love this. Apparently it will give you locations near you where you can find a public water fountain or a restaurant that will fill your cup with tap water. I've been to European cities where there were public water taps everywhere. I've always wondered why we don't have that here.

The Water Brothers, who are featured on TVO's Water Week,  are trying to get people to stop buying bottled water and filling landfills with plastic. Bottled water has never made sense to me, although I have bought it in a pinch. I'm way too cheap and it seems like such a rip off.  But there's another issue that's close to my heart, even closer than saving a few dollars, and that's the damage bottled water plants can do to water tables.

A few years ago, I attended a rural meeting about an industrial development that was planned in my farm community. I showed up with a plastic water bottle. Within minutes, residents were talking about another industrial development that was harming their land, their livelihoods - a local bottled water plant that had been operating for a few years. It's a huge plant that supplies much of the bottled water you buy at Ontario grocery stores. Residents said the water table had been affected and they'd noticed a change in their wells. They were worried. I got worried. And I realized how stupid I'd been to bring bottled water. I didn't know the extent of the problem until I heard it from locals. I don't think most city dwellers get it - that bottled water comes from somewhere. After that, I made sure that we had lots of reusable drink bottles kicking around the house.

That's a story from home. Here's a story from away. My daughter just came back from a volunteer trip to Kenya. She lived and worked in a small rural village where she learned many things, including the value of water. The women there walk several kilometres every day lugging big plastic jugs of water. The water comes from a pond - a muddy, opaque pond. That's what they drink. They rarely boil it - firewood is scarce - so they drink it like it is. My daughter felt terribly guilty for having bottled water supplied by the aid agency, but she'd have gotten very ill if she'd drunk the local water.

March 22 is UN World Water Day, a good time for a conversation with the kids about water here and around the world. You can talk about where our water comes from, how it's treated in municipal plants, the animals and plants that live in water, the people in the world who don't have enough. Don't worry about the weight of the conversation - there's always a way to make it age-appropriate, as we discovered in our discussion, An Inconvenient Youth.

We've also put together all of our interviews and articles about civics and environment, and we've hosted a book club about books for the budding activist, with advice for getting kids thinking about their world.

TVO is celebrating Water Week with special programming. Take a look. Talk to the kids. Fill your cup from a tap.