For several years, the University of Louisville has worked with Louisville Water Company to encourage the use of refillable water bottles by placing water education messages above bottle filling stations across campus.

Besides the benefit of reducing plastic waste — Americans used an estimated 50 billion plastic water bottles last year — the fountains also reward users with totally free, cold, award-winning Louisville Water Company tap water.

The #backtothetap partnership continues this fall with the opening of the new Belknap Academic Building and its chilled tap water filling stations on every floor. Louisville Water Company representatives have also been on campus giving out free water during campus Move-in Day and other events. The Louisville Water Company even offers guest lecturers who teach real-world lessons about the crossroads of science and public health.

A Louisville Water Company representative talks to a UofL student about the city’s award-winning tap water at a UofL Sustainability Fair.

“With almost a fifth of the incoming first-year class coming from out-of-state, this is a great time to share the news that Louisville has some of the best-tasting, highest-quality tap water in the country,” said UofL President Neeli Bendapudi. “UofL is also committed to reducing waste of all kinds, and we encourage students, staff, faculty and visitors to come to campus with reusable bottles and fill them up at our filling stations. It’s the very definition of a win-win.”

Bendapudi recently tweeted a photo of herself with Louisville Water’s president, Spencer Bruce, and senior utility consultant, Vince Guenther.

The partnership grew out of a conversation several years ago between Kelley Dearing Smith, vice president of communications and marketing for the water company, and Justin Mog, UofL’s assistant to the provost for sustainability initiatives.

Students at the time were urging the university to ban bottled water or add a fee to cover the costs of recycling the plastic bottles. Instead, an educational campaign on the value of water and the high quality of Louisville’s tap water was born.

“Louisvillians are quite the water connoisseurs – we love the taste of our water,” Dearing Smith said. “Students coming to UofL from other cities, states and countries may not understand that affection – or may be hesitant to drink tap water. We began the campaign in 2015 with education and messaging and that continues today.”

Louisville’s water was named “The Best Tasting Tap Water in the Country” by the American Water Works Association in 2008 and the People’s Choice for “Best Tasting Water” in 2013, according to the water company’s website.

UofL is one of 50 partners that Louisville Water works with, placing signs above drinking water and fountains and filling stations around the city. Signs were placed recently in the newly renovated Kentucky International Convention Center, where 13 banks of water fountains with bottle filling stations were installed, and will be added to new fountains at Louisville International Airport in the coming months.

Louisville Water Company representatives are available to professors or even campus clubs to teach about the value of #backtothetap.

“I’ve worked with professors on topics ranging from the global and political issues on water, the difference between bottled water and tap water and the history/architecture of Louisville Water,” Dearing Smith said. “For those on campus who’d like to do more than drink the water, they can reach out to Louisville Water for a guest speaker, requests products like coolers and cups for an event or work with us on a special event.”

Dearing Smith added that, as the parent of a college student, she is aware of this generation’s “sincere appreciation for doing something that matters. I’m hopeful that this will be the generation that really gets #backtothetap. Many of these students grew up with parents who rushed into a large-box store to grab cases of bottled water for lunches, sports and school events. There will always be a time for bottled water – emergencies and national disasters – but we’re incredibly lucky to live in a community with some of the highest-quality and best-tasting tap water.”

Check out LouisvilleWater.com for more information and guest lecture opportunities. 

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Janet Cappiello covers the College of Business, the J.B. Speed School of Engineering, the College of Education and Human Development, the School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies, Sustainability Council and military initiatives for the Office of Communications and Marketing. She has more than 30 years’ experience in journalism, including working for The Associated Press and magazines such as Vegetarian Times and Sustainability: The Journal of Record. She has been at UofL since March 2014.