JOHN YDSTIE, host:
New York City has some of the world's best museums, restaurants, theaters and sports teams.
It also has a lesser-known attribute: Really good drinking water. It's piped in from reservoirs in the Catskill Mountains, many miles north of the city. Officials say that in an era of bottled water, a lot of New Yorkers don't appreciate how good their water is. So the city has launched a campaign to get people to rediscover the joys and benefits of tap water
NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.
JIM ZARROLI: Since he came to this country a quarter century ago from Senegal, Amadu Diop(ph) has embraced many aspects of American life. But there's one thing he won't do. He won't drink water that comes out of a faucet.
Mr. AMADU DIOP: Oh, no, no, no, no, no. I never do. No, no. I don't like it. I don't like it. I always buy water from the store, you know.
Mr. DIOP: It's more clean. I really want to drink something good.
ZARROLI: That attitude frustrate city Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden. When Frieden talks about New York's water supply, he gets downright rhapsodic.
Dr. THOMAS FRIEDEN (Health Commissioner, New York City): We have great water here. New York City's tap water has been described as the champagne of municipal waters.
ZARROLI: The problem, Frieden says, is that New Yorkers increasingly don't know it. Many come from places where tap water is unsafe to drink or they're simply getting out of the tap water habit.
Dr. FRIEDEN: We did a series of focus groups with New Yorkers and we found that younger New Yorkers didn't trust tap water. They had kind of grown up in the era that if you drink water, it comes from a bottle that you buy and didn't really have the concept that tap water is healthy, wholesome, delicious, clean. And it is.
ZARROLI: So the city recently kicked off a campaign called Get Your Fill. It's an effort to get a message out to New Yorkers: Come on in, the water is fine. The city's running ads extolling the virtues of tap water, and it's doing other things as well.
Dr. FRIEDEN: Twenty left.
ZARROLI: The city recently dispatched a team of young men to Harlem to hand out empty blue plastic bottles. The idea was that instead of buying spring water, people could fill the bottles with tap water and carry them around all day. Since everybody likes a freebie in New York, the bottles went fast.
Unidentified Man #1: Can I have one for my dad? Thank you.
ZARROLI: But once people learned what the bottles were for, many were skeptical. Vida Asiamih(ph), who took two bottles, says she lives in an apartment building where the pipes are said to be bad and she's about as likely to drink tap water as she is to drink gasoline.
Ms. VIDA ASIAMIH: They say it's not clean.
ZARROLI: It's not clean.
Ms. ASIAMIH: Yeah, that's what they said. So maybe I'll put spring water inside here and put it in the refrigerator so when I go outside, drink it. Yeah.
ZARROLI: City officials say old pipes can be a problem in some buildings, but it's not common and it doesn't mean the water going into the pipes is bad. The campaign has ruffled some feathers in the beverage industry.
Joe Doss, who heads the International Bottled Water Association, doesn't dispute the idea that New York has good water.
Mr. JOE DOSS (President, International Bottled Water Association): But unfortunately I think that this campaign by New York City, this Get Your Fill campaign, only encourages an unnecessary and confusing bottled water versus tap water debate.
ZARROLI: Doss says bottled water has exploded in popularity not because it's better than tap water necessarily but because it's healthier than other beverages like soda. The city has also taken shots from some of the local media who fault it for spending money on an ad campaign right after raising water rates.
But city officials are standing firm. Commissioner Frieden notes that if people drink tap water, they're less likely to consume sugary beverages.
Dr. FRIEDEN: If promoting water consumption results in the reduction of obesity, diabetes, it's actually going to save the city a lot of money.
ZARROLI: The city says buying less bottled water means fewer plastic bottles getting tossed out, which benefits the environment. Frieden also says New Yorkers have paid for a great water system. It only makes sense that they use it.
Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.
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