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Pacific U kicks the bottle

Bottled water no longer available at Forest Grove, Hillsboro campuses come Aug. 1

This fall, if Boxers get thirsty on the Pacific University campus, they better look for a tap.

Thanks to the efforts of two Pacific alumni and university dining services, as of Aug. 1, bottled water will no longer be available on campus.

Sara Brells and Terra Nielson, the alums who proposed the ban, had been trying to banish the bottle for over a year and a half to address both the harmful environmental effects, but also the human rights aspects of bottled water.

"The more we read into it, the more we realized the water bottles were more than just a detriment to the environment, it's about making safe and healthy utilities for everybody, not just everyone that can afford it," said Nielson, who graduated in 2010.

Brells and Nielson teamed up with Take Back the Tap, a national movement trying to help college campuses and businesses bid farewell to the bottled water industry. The duo raised awareness for their cause and put together a petition to demonstrate community support and collected over 300 signatures from students and staff, which is a considerable chunk of Pacific's total 1,600 undergraduate populations.

And their efforts seemed to have paid off even before the ban officially passed.

In the 2009-2010 academic year the university's dining center, known as the "Boxer Bistro," sold over 13,000 plastic water bottles, but that number declined by almost 3,000 in 2010-2011.

Brells, who majored in political science and is a Fulbright Scholar, said the greatest obstacle the ban faced was challenging the way people think about water and addressing the assumptions that people make about the tap and the bottle.

"Banning the water bottle isn't going to make that much of a dramatic difference, it's a tool to get people to take a moment and think," she said.

Pacific University's food service provider, Aramark dining facilities, consented to the proposal for the ban in April and plans to discontinue the sale of bottled water in the university bistro by August 2011 and will halt the distribution of disposable bottles at campus catered Aramark events by fall of 2012.

Students will still be allowed to bring bottled water to campus, the ban only applies to the sale and distribution by entities of the university.

"People aren't going to be attacked if they bring bottled water to campus," said Brells.

In addition to ditching the bottle, Pacific is looking to increase access to tap and filtered water on campus by installing filling stations, called "hydration stations," but Director of Auxiliary Enterprises in the Student Life Division Ralph Vasey said funding is an issue.

"We're trying to find a funding source for three of our residence halls, so I'm not sure if we'll have hydration stations in the residents halls before fall," said Vasey, but he did confirm that a new station would be installed in the university library before students return in August.

Individual departments will be responsible for the costs of switching from bottled water to installing filling stations or water coolers, but according to Nielson, some departments may save money by kicking the bottle. As an accompaniment to the ban, a student internship position has been created to help students and staff make the transition. The intern will be responsible for helping establish estimates for departments considering a change from bottled to tap water and also informing and educating incoming students about why they cannot buy bottled water on campus.

Brells and Nielson said that losing bottled water on campus has been a long time coming, mainly because Forest Grove has a healthy supply of clean water. The water was tested on campus before the ban's approval and even without being filtered it was found to be safe, quality drinking water.

"Obviously we want water that's healthy and safe for everyone," said Nielson. "The public just assumed that the water wasn't safe to drink."