In Defense Of The Thirsty: A Plea For Water At Parties (Not The Burn)

funny-sometimes-drink-glass-water-surprise-liver-picsThis is a thought experiment, a call to action, or maybe even a plea. Perhaps it’s the ravings of a lunatic, if you don’t agree with me. The community of people who read this blog are the only ones on the planet with both the openness to listen and the determination to find solutions to complex problems. If we can figure out how to throw the best party in the world in the worst place to throw it, surely we can figure out this whole water thing.
8lHATcISpecifically, I want to talk about the cost & availability of water at events throughout the country, off-playa. We have Burning Man camps throwing stupendous parties as fundraisers for BM & regional burns. These events showcase the idea that parties can be principled, community-building affairs. These events are superior to “retail” or “EDM” styled dance music events, and we generally are pretty smug about how much better they are. Not for nothing, as they totally are. However, they aren’t perfect.

One thing that’s somewhat baffling is price of water at all of these events. The fact that I’m paying $5-6 for a bottle of water at Pacha, Avalon or Hakkasan is one thing. But when I’m being charged the same amount at a camp fundraiser, I think there’s a problem. I totally understand that it’s a fundraiser and we’re there to support, but we also rely on a gigantic population of people who go to these parties but never make it to Burning Man. I’m not sure why gouging these people is justified. I don’t believe water should ever be a profit generating item on party budgets but I also know I’m not the King of All Parties.

Malevolent GOdI think there’s a real opportunity for Burners to lead on this one, and make parties across the country better. There are plenty of influential DJs, producers, promoters, 1% & 0.1% members who enjoy the Burn and know that it’s important for us to ask serious questions about where we get our water, how, and who we buy it from/how it’s produced. Why am I paying 6 bucks for a bottle of water, that was ordered in bulk from some Big Water ZombieCorp? Why is it that we’re not making the hard, possibly slightly less profitable choices about providing tap water (it goes through the best water filter jugs at least once), advocating for water conservation & reforming the laws around large companies bottling our municipal water supply and selling it back to us.

Before anyone says it: No, this is not a call to have water given out at Burning Man. I’ve got a map from the 2006 Burn on my wall above the computer I’m writing this on, and would never want to make BM anything less than the rugged, non-plug & play carnival of stupendousness I remember it as and know it can be. The idea of having water provided at the Burn is antithetical to the goals of the event and those who attend. At burn fundraisers in real bars, warehouses & places that aren’t the deep playa however? I don’t understand why water is more expensive there than it is at the dubstep show up the street. Aren’t we better than that?

Photograph by Scott R. Kline. Click for source.

If we can spend thousands of dollars on desert dancefloors, epic structures, rainbow lights and art cars with dancefloors inside of them (yo dawg, I herd you like dancefloors…), we can drop a couple of dollars making sure the water that we’re selling at these fundraisers, or gigs we’re associated with isn’t exploitative. What would happen if DiSORIENT, False Profit, Opulent Temple, Kostume Kult, White Ocean, Bubbles & Bass,  Robot Heart just decided to negotiate with venues to ensure water was free or a dollar? If they opened with “what do we need to do to ensure water is free/sold at cost at our fundraisers?” I’d imagine they’d get a lot more traction than if I threw up another useless petition on that you wouldn’t read or sign. What would happen if Burners who owned companies took a look at how they used water? What would happen if superstar DJs who play at Burning Man every year started putting “free water” in their riders off playa? If the green room can come stocked with a dozen bottles of champagne, what would happen if it started being part of what ticket holders expected when we went to a Burning Man camp fundraiser?
10157237_1554159521463579_1240439062530930905_nYes, this would mean we’d need to make some hard choices, work to ensure that California doesn’t entirely dry out, and that we’re more conservationist than hedonistic when it comes to water usage. But maybe it catches fire (like Western parts of the USA this time of year). Maybe headliners like Bassnectar & deadmau5 start demanding it. Maybe California BM groups help make this a signature issue to solve, not to spar or win political points on. Maybe we remember that it is about Gifting & Decommodification as much as it is about Radical Self Reliance.  Who knows, maybe we remind the dance music universe that water isn’t for making money on either, and things get better for everyone. Even people who will never make it to the playa.

It’s fun to dream. Thanks for dreaming with me, for a moment anyways. Hope you’ve got your reusable water bottle within arms reach while you’re reading this. I know I do.

25 comments on “In Defense Of The Thirsty: A Plea For Water At Parties (Not The Burn)

  1. Reblogged this on Terry Gotham and commented:

    Super proud to be bringing you my 2nd piece for! This time I’m talking about the massive problem of price gouging at the water fountain. Take a look & join in the conversation!

  2. At Outside Lands festival in SF they sold metallic water bottles with the festival logo on them for I think $10-15 the last two times I was there. They came with free refills throughout the 3 day event and are a nifty keepsake that I still use often. Not a bad idea, eh?

    • Yum! Drinking water that was used to wash the inside of a freshly-manufactured metal water bottle. Be sure your health insurance is paid up.

      Fresh potable water should be a right at any public event, like it is in NYC, but apparently not in Vegas, but in SF!:


      It shall be unlawful for any person to own, conduct, operate, or maintain, or to cause or to permit to be conducted, operated, or maintained any dance hall or to conduct, promote, or sponsor or to cause or to permit to be conducted, promoted, or sponsored any dance within the City and County of San Francisco without first having obtained a permit from the Entertainment Commission. This permit requirement does not apply if the location at which the dance is being held has a place of entertainment permit, the permit is valid, and the place of entertainment provides free drinking water as required by Section 1070.27.”

      • BTW, from


        If the location for which the extended hours premises permit is issued holds over 500 persons and contains a dance floor or other place primarily designated for dancing, the permit holder shall provide:

        (a) Free cool drinking water to patrons by means of an automatic drinking fountain or by providing cups of water at all beverage service locations, or both; and

        (b) Earplugs for free, or for sale on the premises at a reasonable price. (Added by Ord. 176-00, File No. 000477, App. 7/28/2000; amended by Ord. 215-02, File No. 021459, App. 11/1/2002)”

        • That is a great law. The problem for club owners is Molly , k, acid, and these designer drugs lead to a crowd not buying a lot of booze .

          We used to let people fill their waterbottles for free from the bathroom taps, but we had a metal detector searching for weapons.

  3. I was charged 20 something dollars for a bottle of water in vegas. I tried to refill the bottle in the bathroom later on but they also make the water extremely hot. Charging more for water than drinks because they want the bad choices to keep coming and the money flowing.

  4. As far as those concerned for the “free” water at parties leading to waste, I would suggest that those who come to the party should be welcome to take home as much drinking fountain water as they can carry. As for waste at point-of-use at the party, that’s pretty much the responsibility of those running the event, and paying the water bill one way or another.

    However, if someone chooses not to drink the city water, buying Fiji water at $6/bottle is their option. Any problems with the potable quality of city water should be taken up with the city, state or EPA, but is not an argument to get bottled water for free – but you should be able to bring in your own bottled water.

  5. My personal practice is to use filtered tap water in very old (finished off-gassing plasticizers) plastic water bottles, regularly washed in a dishwasher to encourage off-gassing.

    However, many Burn-related and other parties in NYC have made a practice to searching people as they come in – not for weapons but for water bottles that must be emptied or surrendered. I suppose they are afraid of losing drink sales revenues from those who would bring in clear alcohol, but they are running the risk of violating NYC Local Law 55. All public assembly event locations in NYC must provide drinking water or drinking fountains (as per table 403.1 in LL 55*). This is because, quite simply, people can collapse and faint for want of drinking water – a public health and safety issue. While I have left events in the past for want of free water after denying my water bottles at entry, my new practice is to report them to the City. Have a nice day!

    I suggest you check with your local laws and maybe bring a printout in case your water rights are challenged. Oh, and note that water in restrooms does NOT count in NYC, but drinking fountains that let you refill your water bottle ARE required.



    410.1 Approval.
    Drinking fountains shall conform to ASME A112.19.1M, ASME A112.19.2M or ASME A112.19.9M, and water coolers shall conform to ARI 1010. Drinking fountains and water coolers shall conform to NSF 61, Section 9. [Where water is served in restaurants, drinking fountains shall not be required. In other occupancies, where drinking fountains are required, bottled water dispensers shall be permitted to be substituted for not more than 50 percent of the required drinking fountains.] Drinking fountains required by table 403.1 shall be equipped with both a bubbler faucet for drinking and a separate faucet designed for filling a container at least 10 inches in height.

    410.2 Required drinking fountains.
    Where water is served in restaurants, drinking fountains shall not be required. In other occupancies, where drinking fountains are required, up to 50 percent of required drinking fountains conforming to Section 410.1 may be substituted by dedicated plumbing fixtures with faucets designed for filling a container at least 10 inches in
    height. Bottled water dispensers shall not be substituted for required drinking fountains.

    410.3 Prohibited location.
    Drinking fountains and plumbing fixtures with faucets permitted to be substituted
    for required drinking fountains shall not be installed in public restrooms.

      • While calling the police might not be warranted, I suggest you use your phone to record their confiscation of your water and refusal to provide free water, and refusal to refund your ticket. You can then use the video to pursue your ticket refund from your c/c company after you use the video to rat them out to the City.

        Keep in mind that charging for ALL drinking water, at least in NYC, is like charging to use the restroom or port-a-potties. When you throw a party, both are required by law.

        If you want help in finding who to contact in the City, just call the number on the port-a-potties the next day. They will know who in the City enforces the health laws, because that’s how the keep in business.

    • I am waiting with baited breath for Pooh to comment that, unless you are a Member of the Bar (or maybe a licensed plumber), you are not qualified to tell what a drinking fountain and restroom are.

      • You can generally find the regulations by Googling your way to the municipal site, like Then search that site for “drinking fountain,” and take it from there. That’s how I got the NYC and SF info.

    • Exactly! I think that’s definitely what we should be working on. Whether it’s supporting municipal water supplies over bottlers, voting with our dollar when it comes to sustainable brands or a number of other little things we can do, there’s lots of ground to gain there. It’s way more than just ensuring we’re not buying pallets of Nestle branded bottled water.

    • You can stow your laffer curve & fantasy math thanks. Not only did I say “at cost” numerous times in the article, but I like how you’re actually advocating to charge people for access to the municipal water supply. Something you already pay for with your tax dollars. But you don’t believe in taxes or gov’t services right?

      • High cost leads to conservation. Spend some time in South Australia (which has been under water restrictions for a long time) and you will note people take water usage very seriously (buckets in the shower, giant roof capture systems, etc). Same thing with gasoline there. You don’t casually drive 20mi without thinking about avoiding the trip or carpooling.

        extreme example: the ISS. You *will* drink your own pee and mine too while on the ISS b/c anything else is cost prohibitive.

        making anything ‘free’ or even very cheap leads to problems.

          • Uh, Larry, you do know that on the ISS they filter and purify urine before drinking, right? Maybe you can stop wasting your time calling NASA,

        • “High cost leads to conservation,” is entirely and utterly specious in this context. Price has nothing to do with your body’s need for water, and drinking bottled water (either bought or filled for “free” from a fountain like NYC requires) has no “conservation” aspect. Willful waste by the user is negligible.

          So tell us, Scott, how much of your revenues come from water sales?

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