Dennis Nixon loves to walk from his condo at Mahogany Run to Magens Bay beach, where he swims along the buoys each week.
Nixon always carries a refillable water bottle on the long trek, but on a recent day, he ran dry and needed a refill. That’s when he realized that the park no longer has a drinking fountain – it was blown away in Hurricane Irma and never replaced.
“I didn’t notice until I moved here permanently in January that there is no longer a place for a member of the public to get fresh water,” Nixon told the Magens Bay Authority board of directors during their monthly meeting on Friday. A marine lawyer and former associate dean of the Graduate School of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island, he recently retired as director of that state’s Sea Grant program.
Luckily, on the day he ran out, his pockets empty of cash, authority General Manager Hubert Brumant gave him water to replenish his refillable bottle to make the trip back up the hill, Nixon said.
“It struck me that since this is a service that used to be provided, and water bottle filling stations are now very common occurrences in airports and schools, basically in all public structures, and since the Magens Bay Authority is a quasi-public organization, it struck me as a possible gap that could be filled,” said Nixon.
“I’m a very happy customer of the beach, I think it’s very well managed, but I do see this as one omission right now,” Nixon told the board.
Not only would a water filling station cut down on plastic waste, it also could be a marketing opportunity for the authority, which could sell branded refillable water bottles that would make nice mementos for tourists, and even hold an art contest for students to come up with a design, said Nixon, who offered to help fund such an effort.
It also would send the message that the Magens Bay Authority practices good environmental stewardship, Nixon said.
“I would be happy to help write the grant proposal if you’d like my assistance. I used to be a dean, I can write these sorts of things pretty well. We could get the money to fund the water bottle filling station” through the Department of Planning and Natural Resources’ Clean Coasts program, Nixon said. They cost about $2,000 to $2,500 installed, he said.
However, it will require the consent of the Dimopoulos family, which operates the food concession where the filling station would need to be placed, since the building has a cistern and electricity. It also was the site of the old water fountain.
Nixon said he has spoken with Chris Dimopoulos about his proposal, and while he said he would need to speak with his family, “he didn’t dismiss the idea out of hand.” Phil Dimopoulos attended Friday’s Zoom meeting but did not speak.
Nixon said he is not suggesting that plastic water bottles be eliminated.
“As Mr. Dimopoulos pointed out to me, the cruise ship guests will often say, ‘We don’t want something else to take with us, a branded Magens Bay water bottle, I just want that $3 bottle of Aquafina.’ Fine. There will always be customers like that, who won’t believe that filtered water can be clean enough to drink. That’s the only kind that I drink. I haven’t bought a water bottle in years,” he said.
Filling stations have an integrated filter system, designed to handle cistern water, and they are built to withstand the rigors of elementary schools and airports, Nixon said.
“I have visited public beaches on six continents now as part of my career, having just recently retired, and this is really one of the best in the world. I love calling it my local beach,” said Nixon. “I just think it could be improved if members of the public – particularly the ones I’ve been speaking to who use the beach for exercise, not necessarily having painkillers all afternoon – those of us who would like to refill a water bottle would appreciate that opportunity, and I humbly ask for your cooperation,” he said.
“I actually think it’s a great idea. I walk the beach a few times a week myself and one of the things we end up doing is picking up trash along the way, and one of the things we most pick up is water bottles,” said board treasurer Cecile deJongh. She recently attended a tennis tournament in California, where plastic water bottles were prohibited and patrons used filling stations, she said.
“I like the idea myself,” said board member Dayle Barry, whose only reservation was the security of the filling station, since Magens Bay has an open-gate policy after hours. “But I am sure there is something we can do that would allow for that to be possible,” he said.
“I am sure there are systems that have been designed for this because they are available in public parks I have seen around the world in my travels,” said Nixon. “This wouldn’t be the first time somebody’s tried something like this, but I wasn’t going to go down that deep hole until I heard some degree of interest from the board. I am happy to investigate it further,” he said.
“One of the greatest things about Magens Bay is watching the pelicans come in and feed in the afternoon, and we don’t want them feeding in plastic,” said Nixon. “We don’t want the sea turtles that I can see when I am swimming along the buoys ingesting that plastic. I see this as really a very important environmental step to take.”
Having received some support for his proposal, Nixon will continue his research and report back to the board with more detailed information.
“Continue and keep us apprised, and we’ll see where this goes,” said board Chairperson Katina Coulianos.