Innovating Hydration: Phoenix’s Chilled Water Initiative

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In a bid to address the pressing need for accessible drinking water in the scorching heat of Phoenix, the City’s Office of Innovation, led by Chief Innovation Officer Michael Hammett, has started an initiative to install chilled water infrastructure in public spaces. In a recent interview, Hammett shared insights into the genesis, design, and expected impact of this innovative project.

Addressing the Thirst: A Six-Month Journey
Phoenix, known for being one of the hottest major cities in the nation, posed a unique challenge: ensuring residents and visitors have access to chilled drinking water in public areas. Michael Hammett outlined the motivation behind the initiative, citing the City’s multimodal transportation goals and the necessity for residents to stay hydrated and healthy. Over the last six months, the Office of Innovation has conducted surveys in pilot areas, seeking community input to shape the project.
Hammett emphasized, “The goal is to have equitable access to water for everybody. We looked at other cities globally and locally, recognizing the varying approaches to this issue. We utilized both qualitative and quantitative data, factoring in temperature data and community surveys to pinpoint areas where the need is most acute.”

Devney Preuss Majerle (second from left), president and CEO at Downtown Phoenix Inc., Michael Hammett (fourth from left), and Phoenix Councilwoman Yassamin Ansari (far right) celebrate the opening of the chilled water station in Phoenix.

Innovative Design Driven by Data
The Office of Innovation takes a data-centric approach to design and implementation. Environmental Programs and Innovation Specialist of the City Danielle Vermeer, involved in modifying the systems for installation, discussed the intricacies of incorporating a chilled component. She highlighted the limited chilled drinking water infrastructure options, especially in high-temperature regions like Phoenix. The team collaborated with existing City vendors to modify designs, incorporating features such as an internal chiller, a purge system, a bottle filler option, and aesthetically pleasing “bubblers.”
Danielle stated, “We’re testing different components, from surface coatings for heat mitigation to shade structures and even incorporating community art for placemaking. The design is not just about functionality; it’s about creating an inviting and sustainable solution.”

Ensuring Safety and Quality
With health and safety being paramount, the team collaborates with various departments, including the Water Service Department and Downtown Phoenix, Inc. partners. Hammett explained that the water used is municipal water, already tested, and on City property. The purge system supports water quality by preventing stagnation, and experts, along with a green and clean team, will oversee cleaning protocols to maintain an inviting perception.
Hammett added, “We want to ensure they are clean and that people feel good about utilizing them.”

Exploring Technologies for Accessibility
To make chilled water more accessible and convenient, the team explored a range of technologies. Consulting with experts, they considered surface coatings, chiller locations, and protective measures to withstand extreme temperatures. The goal is not only to provide chilled water but to ensure the system’s sustainability in Phoenix’s heat.
Hammett expressed excitement, “We’re testing in Phoenix, Arizona, because of our heat. We’re looking at everything to test and refine for the next iteration.”

Community Engagement: A Vital Component
Engaging with the community is at the core of this initiative. Hammett highlighted the significance of placing the community at the center of the design process. Surveys were conducted among residents and businesses to gather insights on preferred locations and design elements. Ongoing evaluations post-installation will continue to involve the community in refining and adapting the systems.
Hammett emphasized, “It’s about putting the community at the center of whatever we’re designing. We’ll continue to evaluate with the community to see how they’re performing, to see what changes the community would like to see. It will be ongoing.”

Measuring Success and Future Impact
Evaluation mechanisms are being implemented to measure the success and impact of the chilled water initiative. Surveys, behavioral observations, and tracking usage will provide insights into how the community interacts with the systems. The initiative aims not only to quench thirst but to reduce single-use plastic bottle consumption, contributing to sustainability goals.
Hammett concluded, “We’re really interested to see how people are using it, how often they’re using it, and how it makes them feel. We want qualitative data for what residents think about it, do they feel better? Do they feel like they’re able to hydrate better while navigating the City?”

Elzat (from upper left, clockwise), her mentor Vielka Miller, who works for the City of Phoenix, and Elzat’s daughter.

Innovative Features: Beyond the Basics
Danielle summarized the innovative features of the chilled water solutions, including the purge feature, plastic push buttons for user comfort, and an internal chiller. Exploring coatings and shades for temperature control, the team is committed to a multi-faceted approach that goes beyond functionality. Hammett highlighted the significance of design, colors, and community feedback in creating an inviting and effective system.
As Phoenix continues to evolve as a hub of innovation, the chilled water initiative stands as a testament to the City’s commitment to creating sustainable, accessible, and community-centric solutions. It not only quenches physical thirst but represents a thirst for innovation, setting a precedent for cities worldwide.

About Elzat Kydyrmysheva

Elzat Kydyrmysheva is a highly experienced communication professional who has spent the past fifteen years developing communication strategies for the government of Kyrgyzstan. She is the Head of the PR Department at the Digital Development Ministry, leading the charge to eliminate digital illiteracy in Kyrgyzstan through the National Program. Throughout her illustrious career, Elzat has led numerous nationwide information campaigns during key moments in Kyrgyzstan’s history. Some of her notable achievements include playing a pivotal role in the information campaigns for monumental projects such as the Unified State Population Register, the automation of state registration services, collecting biometric data from citizens, and organizing the first election in Central Asia using innovative technologies. Elzat holds a master’s degree in philology from the National University of Kyrgyzstan and has been recognized for her exceptional contributions to public service with the rank of Public Service Advisor and several esteemed government awards. This year, Elzat aims to enhance her skills in strategic and public information campaigns and digital communication tools and research ways to improve people’s digital skills through effective communication.

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