Free drinking water for event attendees: how to do it?

A few weeks ago I interviewed Patrick from Event Water Solutions, a Canadian company that provides water refill stations across the world for festivals and events.

Patrick can you tell us more about yourself and Event Water Solutions?

My name is Patrick and I’m the director of business development for Event Water Solutions. We are a Canadian based firm but travel the world providing water refill stations at events and festivals. Our goal is to reduce and eliminate the need of single use plastic water bottles at music festivals and sporting events.

We started the company in 2009. We were in the industrial water business but a very small and local folk festival came to us. They came to us and said they wanted to eliminate single use water bottles but how do we do this?

This is how we came up with our water refill stations, which we now take with us all over the world. We started very small but we now do 165 events each year in Canada, America, Australia, and Europe.

So how does it work? Your goal is to eliminate single use plastic water bottles. What does your machine look like? Can you explain the process?

We have taken a glorified water fountain and made it bigger and faster. We take our water station and connect it to a municipal water source, which is already potable. We take that water, chill it, filter it, use UV light to clean out all the bacteria, and dispense the water directly to the event patrons.

Water refill station

Water refill station

We pride ourselves on that we can meter everything. This means you have marketable results. So for example, last year at Lollapalooza in Chicago we poured 593,000 bottles of water in a 3-day period. The event organiser can than calculate how many bottles they have saved from production and compare it to their ROI.

How much water is being used at festivals for drinking water alone?

That depends on many factors from weather to location. But we work on the principle that every person drinks at least 1 bottle of water. One bottle is half a litre. So for a 10,000 capacity festival we are looking at least at 5,000 litres. At Electric Daisy, with 145,000 attendees, we poured roughly 1 million bottles: or 500,000 litres of water over 3 days.

But it means the audience needs to bring their own bottle or cup to the festival. How does that work?

Well a lot of festivals won’t let you bring in your own bottle. A lot of festivals still sell plastic bottles but they also sell their own branded festival bottle. Branded with the festival’s logo or with the logo of their sponsor. They sell it to increase revenue but also to give the audience something they can keep, something nostalgic the attendee can take back with them. You also have the camelback backpacks and especially at EDM festivals people are allowed to bring those in because it is a health and safety issue. 

Are you handing out the water for free and if so who pays you?

We pride ourselves on never ever charging the patron. We are 100% free! We will fill up any water vessel; from cups to empty beer bottles and we even fill up your hands if that’s the case.

Our business model is very simple. The event producer will hire us. They will normally approach a third party sponsor to recoup the costs and the producer will pay us to be there. We’ll bring our product on site and it’s 100% turnkey, as my staff will take care of everything including cleaning up the area afterwards.

You’re tapping into fire hydrants? How does that work?

"We refill any water vessel... even your hands"

"We refill any water vessel... even your hands"

Correct. We are tapping directly into a municipal line, which could be a fire hydrant. As long as it is a potable water source we will clean it before we give it to the event attendees. 

You just mentioned Lollapalooza as your client but I can image sporting events are a perfect fit for you as well?

Absolutely. We have been involved in quite a lot of sporting events. From X Games to 5k-runs and colour runs. Sports people need to stay hydrated especially in the summer. More and more organisers start to realise that it is a necessity. A lot of these events are pushing past the idea that charging $5 or $6 for a bottle of water is not giving you the return you are hoping for. We’ve talked a lot with the big event organisers in North America and they said as well that the spend per customer is the same with us as without us. Attendees don’t spend less because water is now free. They still spend their money on something else and for event planners that is the end game, that is what they want to see.

The city of San Francisco has a plastic water bottle ban. Do you see that idea spread across the rest of the country or event the world?

It is a great initiative and I do think it’s something we will see more and more. In many ways it’s the younger generation that will lead this. I don’t know of any US university where they don’t have a plastic water bottle ban. All of them use fountains or something similar. At their orientation the students are given a water bottle. Plastic hasn’t disappeared yet but it’s slowly but surely put on the side.

Are event attendees on board with your product?

People are actually quite curious what it is and I’ve never heard a negative comment about what we do. We provide free water and people realise the environmental side and the health and safety side. So it is positives all around. I think that it is a win-win situation all round. It is good for the event producer, the environment and the audience. People don’t want to, nor should they, spend $5 for a bottle of water. On a hot day you drink about 10 to 15 bottles, that’s a lot of money.

What is your advice to future event planners with regards to water usage at events and festivals?

As we all know, water is precious and we are running out of it. So to be able to conserve, reduce and reuse water is always a great thing. Event planners should look at how they can reclaim and when there is spillage that you take care of it. I think there’s a role for event planners to educate attendees and letting them know about water supply etcetera. I bet you that most people don’t even know where water comes from. So educating people about water usage is key in getting people to look for products that teach people this. Conservation is only way to go!

You can find out more about Event Water Solution on their website For more information about event planning check out my website and follow me on Twitter.