Rybak’s tap-water campaign a bust.

Rybak is using water management money to make overpriced drinking fountains.

At a conference in Miami last month meant to promote the use of municipal tap water across the United States, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, along with mayors of 14 other cities, touted the benefits of tap water over bottled water: It’s cheaper, more regulated and less wasteful. The campaign had the best of intentions, but in Minneapolis, a combination of poor financial decisions followed by a spate of complaints from residents about a putrid stench coming from Minneapolis faucets threatens to derail any public support of it.

Indeed, the Star Tribune reported weeks ago that the city’s telephone information service registered roughly 80 calls a day from residents complaining about Minneapolis’s drinking water. And with devilishly bad timing, Rybak announced a misguided plan to fund 10 artist-designed drinking fountains at $50,000 a pop ($500,000 total) to help promote the use of drinking tap water.

Rybak argued that the money was well spent, with some of it coming out the city’s dedicated art and water coffers. Within limits, we won’t argue against funding for the arts, and the money would be well-spent if drawn strictly from art money. But Rybak made a poor decision in putting money used to maintain the city’s water supply into overpriced drinking fountains – especially if the water stinks. That money could have gone to improving Minneapolis’ water treatment system, which the city relies heavily on because it draws it water directly from the murky, polluted Mississippi River.

Rybak’s 2008 budget proposed upward of $67 million for more public water facilities. Two hundred thousand dollars of that money is going to promote the use of city water. While that money and the $500,000 might amount to fractions for the city, it would be used to promote a mere Pinto with a new paint job if the water ever smells again.