It's Aquatennial time. So, in the spirit of Minneapolis' annual festival of summer fun in a city of lakes, it's sweet to picture one-of-a-kind, sculpture-like water fountains scattered about the city.
Surely that image was on Mayor R.T. Rybak's mind as he lobbied to spend $500,000 on 10 artistic drinking fountains. Plain, nondescript and, yes, boring fountains cost about $6,000 a pop. But the mayor, who has rightly campaigned to reduce bottled water use in favor of tap water, believes more showy dispensers will increase water consumption. At present, seven suburbs purchase about 22 percent of their water from Minneapolis. Rybak wants them to buy more to help offset water-rate increases to citizens.
Public art is important, but the timing for this particular art is terrible. The bad economy puts government under more pressure than ever to contain costs. So concerns about $50,000 fountains are understandable -- especially when some other vital city services are underfunded.
In addition, Minneapolis hasn't exactly had a great reputation lately on the water front. Last month, 42 drinking fountains were replaced in City Hall after tests found high levels of lead contamination. Just this month, city water developed a funky smell. Even though the stinky stuff is safe to drink and the smell subsides after a couple of weeks, the odor sent many residents back to bottled water.
In our view, it's questionable whether the works of art, no matter how pleasing to the eye, will generate more water sales. If Minneapolis leaders want decorative fountains for beautification, they should say so. To increase consumption, it makes more sense to pitch the quality and cost of city water.
The pricey water dispensers are a done deal. The City Council approved the plan and designs will be displayed during the Aquatennial celebration. When they are up and running, we hope the city will have resolved the odor problem. Even from a pretty vessel, stinky water is likely to be unappealing.