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More public drinking fountains coming to 5 New Orleans neighborhoods

Sarah Parks, executive director of Grace at the Green Light, fills up her water bottle at a Hydrate NOLA station along the Riverfront.
Matt Bloom
Sarah Parks, executive director of Grace at the Green Light, fills up her water bottle at a Hydrate NOLA station along the Riverfront.

“Hydrate or die-drate.”

Those were the words Madeleine Elliot thought of as she lifted her water bottle up to a free public drinking fountain outside the Audubon Aquarium.

“It’s an absolute necessity to life,” said Elliot, an athletic trainer visiting New Orleans for a conference on a recent blistering afternoon. “85% of our body is water and we lose it so easily.”

It’s about to get even easier to find fresh, cold water across the Crescent City. The fountain is part of a quickly-growing effort called Hydrate NOLA. The city awarded $60,000 to the program in May to fund six new stations across five neighborhoods, which will expand the program’s existing 12-fountain network.

Plumbing assessments are already underway at sites in the Lower 9th, 7th and 1st wards, according to Sarah Parks, executive director of Grace at the Green Light, a local nonprofit organization leading the program.

The new sites are the following:

  • Lowernine.org, 1739 Jourdan Ave.
  • Annunciation Recreation Center, 800 Race S.
  • Rosenwald Center, 1120 S Broad St.
  • Kermit's Treme Mother-In-Law Lounge, 1500 N Claiborne Ave.
  • J & J's Sports Lounge, 800 France St.
  • Common Ground Relief, 1515 Jourdan Ave.

Parks and Hydrate NOLA partners chose the new locations to cater to New Orleans’ unhoused population, which is especially vulnerable to dehydration and heat-related illness in the summer months. Climate change-fueled extreme heat has caused more health emergencies, Parks added.

“A lot of our unhoused folks end up in the hospital more,” she said. “And so we’re hoping to prevent some of that from happening.”

A map shows the locations of Hydrate NOLA's current and planned drinking fountains as of July 2024.
Courtesy of Grace of the Green Light
A map shows the locations of Hydrate NOLA's current and planned drinking fountains as of July 2024.

The idea to build out a public drinking fountain network first sprung up during the pandemic. In 2020, Grace at the Green Light was holding regular food and water drives, where volunteers handed out hundreds of water bottles every day to keep unhoused residents hydrated.

A volunteer came to Parks and mentioned that drinking fountains could help offset the huge amount of work and waste generated by plastic bottles.

“We also noticed the gap that New Orleans had few water fountains around town,” Parks said. “The ones that were there were not accessible to our unhoused community or they just weren’t functioning.”

Over the next year, Grace at the Green Light built six fountains at various schools and churches, including the Rebuild Center and the New Orleans Mission, who were open to letting the group tap into their water pipes.

A resident takes a sip of water at a Hydrate NOLA station.
Courtesy of Grace at the Green Light.
A resident takes a sip of water at a Hydrate NOLA station.

Soon after, organizations started reaching out to Parks, which led to more fountains being installed on Magazine Street in Uptown and Beanlandia in the Bywater.

As of July 2024, Grace at the Green Light oversees 12 fountains across the city. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive from unhoused residents who need a water source for drinking or other hygiene needs, Parks said.

“It’s a basic human need to access water,” she said. “We’ve even had feedback from tourists and locals who are thankful for more access to drinking water than previously.”

The drinking fountain expansion comes as the city ramps up other efforts to lower its unhoused population. Over 1,400 people live on New Orleans’ streets, according to local counts.

Fueling the work is more than $16 million in federal dollars earmarked for homelessness solutions. UNITY, the city’s largest nonprofit unhoused services provider, received a $15 million federal grant in April 2023. Hydrate NOLA’s funding comes from a separate $1.14 million infusion of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars.

A majority of the money has gone toward new overnight shelters and supportive housing units, which offer economic and mental health resources to residents. The city has conducted at least six tent encampment sweeps to get people into new housing situations.

So far, at least 155 people experiencing homelessness have benefitted from supportive housing, according to the city’s Office of Homeless Services and Strategy. More encampment sweeps are planned, but locations haven’t been released.

At least four of Hydrate NOLA’s new fountains should be operational by the end of 2024. The other two will be finished in the first quarter of 2025.

Eventually, Grace at the Green Light hopes to build even more fountains.

“Our goal is to have a water fountain in all New Orleans neighborhoods, at least half a mile of walking distance from anywhere you are in the city,” she said.