What do you get when you combine dedicated advocates, a construction boom, and a state building code? An opportunity for change! At least that’s what State Representative Tana Senn (Legislative District 41) saw when she was looking to help increase access to water bottle filling stations throughout Washington State.
After considering trying to move a bill through the state legislature, the lawmaker, along with health and environmental advocacy groups, got creative and turned to the Washington State Building Code Council to explore how water bottle filling stations could become a standard part of buildings across the state.
“I’m the first to admit that building codes can be dry and require diving into the minutia of the language, but the impact is so long-lasting and uniform across the state that it can’t be ignored as an avenue for change,” Representative Senn said. “We are in the middle of a construction boom, so getting this language in the building code needed to happen now. As new buildings go up, these filling stations just become part of the build, rather than having to be retrofitted later. That helps with the buy-in.”
In late 2015, the Council finalized an important rules process regarding access to public water and for the very first time, water bottle filling stations were added to the state building code.
Health advocacy groups, such as the Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition, celebrated this victory with Representative Senn, as an important part of its work to decrease sugary drink consumption, while increasing access to healthy beverages.
According to the Coalition, water fountains alone may not be the best way to attract individuals, especially youth, to drink the healthiest and more affordable beverage on a regular basis. Water bottle filling stations, particularly those that are chilled and filtered, have emerged as an efficient, cleaner, and fresher alternative, which also provides an environmental solution to the proliferation of plastic water bottles.
From her standpoint, Representative Senn, a mother of two, hopes that this infrastructure change will lead to long-term behavior change for all residents in Washington.
“As we look to help support a healthier generation of Americans, we need to look at multi-pronged approaches. Buildings, which are part of the long-term infrastructure of our communities, must be included in the discussion about improving health through the built environment. If you know you can always find a place to fill up your water bottle, it will become a habit; a life-time change in behavior.”
For other states looking to improve public water access, Representative Senn encourages advocates to look closely at their state building code as an avenue for change and to engage a variety of stakeholders in the community.
“By pursuing a change to the state building code, we were able to take the politics out of it and just focus on what made sense for the people of our state.”
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