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A Movement for Clean Water in Kansas Schools

Written by
Jenna Gorton, Intern, Thirsty for Health Project
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Guest blog by Jenna Gorton, Intern, Thirsty for Health Project

During my sophomore year in high school, on a whim, I decided I would dedicate my teenage years to debate. Debate involved yelling at other teenagers far more than I had expected. Fortunately, a filtered water bottle filling station was located right across from our practice room. That filtered water kept my vocal cords intact as I perfected the art of rebutting my peers. Eventually, I was traveling around the state for tournaments.

Traveling around the state taught me a lot of things. I learned that I was unwilling to drink out of traditional water fountains for fear that someone’s mouth had touched the spigot. That often meant skipping drinking water altogether even though I needed it. Finding myself frequently dehydrated at tournaments made me realize another thing. Many Kansas schools lacked access to filtered water bottle filling stations.

I now work as an intern on The Thirsty for Health Project. We are trying to solve this problem. Our team believes that a policy should be passed that ensures filtered water bottle filling stations are in all Kansas schools. Clean water is crucial for students’ health and academic success.

Kids need water to do well in school. Studies show that even “mild dehydration (fluid loss of 1–3%) can impair energy levels, mood, and lead to major reductions in memory and brain performance”. This is especially concerning when we consider that, “a national survey found that 54.5% of U.S. children and adolescents were inadequately hydrated”. Fortunately, water bottle filling stations provide a solution to this too. The Voices for Healthy Kids website reports on “A study in New York City that found that water intake triples in schools that have installed bottle filling stations and provided water bottles”.

Filtering water is important. In many areas of Kansas, drinking water is contaminated. The state delivers water with old lead pipes that put “people in Missouri and Kansas at risk of lead exposure from drinking water at greater rates than almost any other state”. This is impacting Kansas kids. According to a national study published by the American Medical Association in August of last year, “65% of Kansas children have elevated levels of lead in their blood”. The warmer temperatures throughout the state are also increasing water contamination. Late last year, Governor Kelly “declared a drought watch for most of Kansas". According to the CDC, droughts result in "concentration of pollutants in water". These sources of water contamination make it imperative that our kids drink filtered water.

With all of this evidence, it may seem like it’d be easy to persuade policymakers to make this change. There are other issues competing for attention. School board members are working hard with managing COVID, teacher shortages, and other significant challenges. It's important we don't let this issue fall by the wayside. Leaders need to hear from those who are impacted by inadequate water access in schools. Having safe water is fundamental to a healthy and successful educational environment.

Governor Kelly has been focused on improving water in Kansas. It’s possible that focus will spill over into action in schools. Money for water projects is also coming to Kansas from the federal infrastructure bill. The resources and attention coming to this topic make me hopeful. In the meantime, I will continue raising my voice, and no, not just for debate. I will continue raising my voice for the students in Kansas schools so that maybe one day every kid in Kansas can walk across the hall and get clean water.

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