How to Make It Happen at Your School?

Everyone, whether students, parents, school administrators or local advocates, can play a role – big or small – in making water more available in schools.

These efforts are supported by a recent survey of policymakers from across California, including state, county, city, and school officials, which found overwhelming support (94-97%) for providing access to safe and free drinking water in schools.1

A key element of any successful strategy to make this happen is to identify partners and funding sources at the local, state, and regional levels.  There are a wide range of potential partners and funders from the PTA to the private sector to municipal water districts.

Other strategies to expand access to water in schools include:

  • Wellness policies – Schools should incorporate access to and promotion of free tap water during meals into wellness policies.  For more on how to do this click here.
  • Student, parent, and local community engagement – Students, parents, and community members must be engaged in this effort.  Soliciting feedback on how best to encourage water consumption and how to overcome current barriers to water consumption can help ensure a successful effort to expand and enhance the availability of fresh water.
  • Marketing campaigns – Schools can establish campaigns to promote water consumption with marketing and education.  Water can be incorporated into lessons on biology, health, nutrition, and physical education.  Signs and advertisements can be posted in the cafeteria and throughout campus promoting the health and environmental benefits (i.e., reduced bottle waste) of tap water consumption.

Work with your local PTA to help get things started.  Find other interested people and groups.  Develop and coordinate a work plan and strategy.

Engage your local school wellness policy committee.  Ensure that water access/availability is included in the policy.  If it isn't, make a motion to include such language.  For more on using wellness policies, click here.

Test the school's water supply to ensure the school community has confidence in the water quality.  Many students might think tap water is bad or unclean even though the water is perfectly safe.  Knowing that the water is safe and clean and publicizing this fact can help improve the image of tap water.  More information on water quality.

Meet with student groups to get buy-in.  Students can also explain why they might not currently be accessing or drinking water.  Common complaints are that water fountains are dirty, that they prefer chilled water, or the location of the tap is inconvenient.  Each school's response might be unique depending on your student population and its needs.

Strategize on fundraising for start-up costs.

  • Healthy fundraising: examples include selling healthy foods (fresh fruits and veggies or smoothies) or non-food items (school-branded, reusable water bottles; cookbooks; raffle donations; car washes)
    For lots more examples on healthy fundraising, check out these links from California Project LEAN:

  • Inform school food service officials that federal school meal reimbursements from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) can be used on water service.  Just like schools can use this school meal funding to buy forks, trays, and napkins, they can use this pot of money for some of the costs related to serving water, such as cups and water dispensers.

Click the links below to learn more:

Principal or school administrator

School food service administrator

Parent, local advocate, or community leader

If you are a principal/school administrator:

  • Allow students to carry a reusable water bottle.
  • Work with your food services department to let them know you prioritize water access.
  • Work with student groups to get buy-in from students and respond to student preferences (location, method of delivery, temperature, etc.)
  • Work with the school's local wellness policy committee (see above).
  • Make implementation of SB 1413 and the federal water requirement a priority. (See above)
  • Work with relevant staff (food services, facilities, cafeteria) to ensure the water requirement is implemented well and cost-effectively.

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If you are a food service administrator:

  • Make water available by the various means in our fact sheet.
  • Allocate funding within food service budget for water service related infrastructure (pitchers, cups, dispensers, etc.)
  • Use signage to highlight where water is available.
  • Place water in a location where students will have ready access.
  • Work with student groups to get buy-in from students and respond to student preferences (location, method of delivery, temperature, etc.)

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If you are a parent, local advocate, or community leader:

Ensure school district implements the federal and state water in school requirement!

State and Federal Requirements: SB 1413 is a California law that requires schools to make free, fresh drinking water available to students in food service areas of a school.  Authored by California State Senator Mark Leno (D – San Francisco), the bill was passed by the California Legislature in 2010.  As the primary supporter and sponsor of the legislation, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed this bill into law in September 2010.  In December 2010, President Obama signed the "Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act" containing a similar provision.

These requirements do not specify how the water should be provided, but the intent is for free water to be readily available, particularly as a means to discourage sugary drinks and promote water consumption.

Although SB 1413 includes an "opt-out" if a school district can demonstrate that it is unable to comply due to financial, health, or safety reasons, the federal requirement included in the "Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010" does not include an opt-out.  Therefore, all schools must be in compliance with the federal law by the beginning of the 2011-12 academic year.

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To learn more, contact us and remember to check back to the Water in Schools website to get the latest information on best practices and efforts to expand access to water in schools.

Good luck with your efforts. Let us know about your successes!


1. Reference: Field Research and Samuels & Associates. "Overview of Main Findings HEAC and CCROPP Policymakers Survey".  July 30, 2010.