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Tap Water

I Heart Tap Water Campaign

I Heart Tap Water was an active, collaborative campaign from 2009 - 2014 between campus partners Cal Dining, Recreational Sports, Environment, Health & Safety (EH&S) and University Health Services to promote the drinking of tap water as the preferred beverage of choice and to make tap water more accessible with water refill stations and bottle fillers retrofitted to existing water fountains.

While the active campaign is over,  we continue to encourage you to make tap water your beverage of choice and to use a refillable container.  if you regularly purchase coffee or tea, we hope you will also use a refillable container for those hot beverages and contribute to the University's Zero Waste Goal.  

Read on to learn about why drinking tap water is important and how Berkeley's tap water is safe and delicious!

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Why Drinking Tap Water is Important

Your Health

  • Sugar Sweetened Beverages are the leading single source of added sugar in our diets, representing 36% of the sugar consumed and contributing to diseases including obesity and diabetes. 
  • Added sugar from beverages may be even more detrimental to your health than added sugar in food. Studies suggest that we compensate for liquid sugar less effectively than for solid sugar and that people who consume more liquid calories consume more total calories.
  • Health experts are recommending we limit ourselves to about 6-9 teaspoons of added sugar per day, but Americans currently consume an average of 20 teaspoons per day. 
  • See the Sugar Savvy Resources to learn more about sugar in beverages. 

Safety

  • See the campus tap water quality FAQ below.
  • Tap water at UC Berkeley is sourced from the Sierra Nevada snowmelt and then further filtered by our water district East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) before it reaches campus water fountains. Water quality is determined through rigorous testing for contaminants and results must meet or surpass federal and state drinking standards. As such, the water UC Berkeley receives from the tap is very high quality.
  • See the Annual Water Quality Report from EBMUD.
  • Fountains on campus are cleaned daily by our campus facilities staff. However, fountains may or may not be used on a daily basis so it is recommended to run the water for a several seconds prior to drinking from them.
  • If you should encounter a water fountain that is in need of attention, please send an email to Patrick Kaulback, the campus Sanitarian, at pkaulback@berkeley.edu. Thank you for your help!

Refill Stations on Campus

  • Find refill stations on the UC Berkeley Foodscape Map.
  • Thanks to funding from The Green Initiative Fund (TGIF), departments and new construction budgets, refill stations can be found near building entrances in many campus buildings.

Your Money

  • Bottled water, which can cost as much per gallon as gasoline, can be a thousand times more expensive than tap water.
  • According to the Environmental Working Group of the FDA, 44% of bottled water is just tap water, so you might not even be getting what you paid for.

Your Action

  • Make water your preferred beverage.
  • Use a refillable water container and always recycle when those occasions arise when you need to purchase bottled water.

Water Cooler Conversion Guide

Is your department going green and considering eliminating those 5-gallon water bottle coolers?  Use this step-by-step Water Cooler Conversion Guide.

Tap Water FAQs

Is tap water on the UC Berkeley campus safe to drink?

The answer is YES! Tap water is distributed to the campus by the East Bay Municipal Utilities District (EBMUD). The water comes from an excellent source in the Sierras to various EBMUD treatment plants where it is further processed to ensure the water meets regulatory standards under the Safe Drinking Water Act before it reaches our taps. See the annual water quality report from EMBUD.


What kinds of contaminants are typically found in tap water?

Tap water contains many different constituents which are controlled by EBMUD to meet regulatory limits. They are grouped into different categories such as Primary Constituents which can impart health effects, Secondary Constituents which impact the aesthetic quality of water, and Lead/Copper. A more complete list of constituents is found on the EBMUD website in the Annual Water Quality Report.

At UC Berkeley, questions sometimes arise about possible bacteria or lead in the water. Dozens of water quality lab tests performed on tap water from various campus buildings have demonstrated the absence of bacteria, even in the presence of unpleasant odors and taste. Lead has been found in some taps, but at levels that do not constitute a health hazard to the general public. Pregnant women and those caring for young children should understand lead hazards for their particular circumstances. Consult with EH&S or your medical provider for more information.


Does the age of a campus building affect the tap water quality?

In general terms, older buildings can be more susceptible to higher lead levels, but lab test results for campus buildings of differing ages do not always correlate with that hypothesis. Bacterial tests have always been good regardless of building age.


The water from the tap looks, smells, and tastes unpleasant. Is it okay to drink it?

EH&S has received complaints in the past about brown, blue, or red-colored water. Usually this is a result of water standing in the pipes for an extended period of time, such as over a school break period. Iron and copper in the water pipes can leach into the water and cause this kind of discoloration. Simply flushing the water until it runs clear remedies the problem and helps ensure the water is safe to drink.

Cloudy water is often the result of air in the pipeline after some types of plumbing maintenance work. Tiny bubbles can form in the water which will dissipate if the water is placed in a glass and allowed to stand before consumption. It is okay to drink this water.

Some people can smell chlorine or bleach odors in tap water. This is usually caused by the addition of chlorine to the water by EBMUD, and the interaction of that chlorine with a build-up of organic material in the plumbing system. It is safe to drink this water.


Should I filter the tap water before drinking it?

Filters on a tap, or in stand-alone units such as BRITA® pitchers, can improve the taste and odor. Check the filter manufacturer’s statements about the removal of other contaminants such as lead. Filters require regular maintenance, and if left unattended can negatively impact the water quality. A filter is typically not necessary unless users of that particular tap dislike the taste or odor of the water. See the Guide To Tap Water Filtration from Food and Water Watch.


How can I request a filter replacement in a campus refill station?

To request a filter replacement in a campus refill station, please submit a work order to Facilities Services at 642-1032.


Is it okay to use hot tap water for consumption?

This is not recommended since hot water sitting in the pipes can more readily leach contaminants into the water, most notably lead. Always draw water from the cold tap if it will be used for cooking or drinking, and then heat the water if desired. This applies to water drawn at home as well.

The only tap water source available to me is the restroom sink. Is it okay to drink water from there?

Drinking fountains and sinks are all part of the same plumbing system. Drinking fountains, however, may feature chillers or filters to improve the temperature and taste. It’s okay to drink water from the restroom sink if there is no drinking fountain or kitchen sink available. There is no significant risk of water contamination from restroom faucets.


What about industrial water?

Some campus buildings have designated industrial water lines that serve mechanical equipment and labs. Industrial water and tap water are drawn from the same potable water supply for the building, but once inside they are split into two different lines. The industrial lines have several backflow preventers that prohibit the reverse flow of water to the other domestic lines, so there is no risk of cross contamination. Sinks plumbed with industrial water are labeled as such and usually carry the additional comment “Do Not Drink.” If there is a concern that a sink may be plumbed with industrial water and not properly labeled, Physical Plant Campus Services (PPCS) can verify the type of plumbing line and provide appropriate signage.


I still don’t believe the tap water is safe to drink. What else can I do?

EH&S can sample the water and have it tested by a state-certified laboratory. EH&S has a small budget to pay for sampling when there is an objective reason to suspect the water quality. If there is no objective reason to suspect a problem with the water quality, EH&S may recharge the associated department where the sample is collected for lab costs. EH&S will provide the labor at no cost.


Where can I get more information about water quality?

The following websites have great information:


Or contact EH&S at 510-642-3073, or ehs.berkeley.edu.