Sunday, November 3, 2013

When Evian is on tap

Fountain in Nyon that is older than Australia
So we’re well into autumn now – one of my favourite seasons – but with the advent of the colder weather, you’d think they’d turn the taps off on the free public fountains around town, but not so.

But a step back for a moment. Geneva, Nyon – well, pretty much anywhere in Switzerland, actually – has an abundance of public drinking fountains around each town. Some of the fountains are pretty stark; just a plain spout for the water and a plaque that says ‘Eau potable’ (drinking water). Others are a little more elaborate, with statues or flowers off them (as is common on a few throughout Nyon), and others have been around for centuries, with one in the middle of Nyon clearly marked with the year water first spurted out, in 1761. That one fountain is older than what Australia is as a colonised nation, and by some nearly 30 years.

Coming from Australia – one of the driest continents on earth, frequently prone to drought – we’re taught from a very young age that water is perhaps the most precious commodity there is and to waste as little as possible. Take three minute showers. Don’t run washing machines and dishwashers until they’re full. Wash your car on the lawn using a bucket, not the running garden hose. In Perth, its compulsory for all households to observe the annual summer water restrictions, where you may only water your garden with sprinklers twice a week, on allocated days according to the last digit of your house number, and only between the hours of 6pm and 9am. It's a $100 fine if you don’t comply. Water is taken pretty seriously.
One of the plainer fountains in Nyon

So on arriving in Switzerland, a surprising thing was the amount of water fountains around that constantly spout water. Although here is 6% of Europe's freshwater reserves, remarkable for a such a little country. Given it’s crystal clear, cold (almost as if it was from the fridge in winter), and very pure,  and that we’re just across the lake from the town that bears the famous bottled water brand’s name, you could be forgiven for thinking it was Evian on tap. Actually, I’m glad it isn’t Evian – I don’t really like the taste of the stuff out of the bottle, but the stuff from the free water fountains taste great (and yes, water does taste different).

The fountains though, have a continuous supply of water and it often makes me wonder where it goes. The logical conclusion is the lake, since the water there is crystal clear, pure and, being a freshwater lake, would be almost potable if it weren’t for the seaweed, the fish and the boats in it or on it.
A fountain with 'eau potable' in Geneva

Despite the fact it seems like a tremendous waste of what must be some of the clearest, purest water in the world, having the fountains around are pretty convenient when you find yourself suddenly thirsty on a hot summer’s day or during an energetic hike uphill through the old towns of both Geneva and Nyon. It’s just one more thing which makes life in Switzerland so unique and different from Australia.

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