Madison Water Utility Takes Product on the Road With Water Wagon

Madison Water Utility Takes Product on the Road With Water Wagon
The Water Wagon from the Madison Water Utility is a cart that delivers ice-cold water to parched citizens at major events.

Madison, Wis., maintains a modern system of more than 800 miles of water mains. Madison Water Utility reckoned, however, that delivering water in an old-fashioned cart would best help it to promote the value of its product. 

The concept for the Water Wagon — a cart that delivers ice-cold water to parched citizens at major events — can be traced to a brainstorming session headed up by expert engineer Kelly Miess in 2011. 

“We were watching people buying bottled water at a price almost 5,000 times the cost of tap water,” says Amy Barrilleaux, a public information officer with Madison Water Utility. “This was our chance to compete head to head with bottled water by offering residents a free taste of our own quality water, right from the Madison Aquifer.” 

Design become reality 

A sketch resulting from the meeting was transformed into a design drawing by city welder/fabricator Mike Draper. The cart, made largely of lightweight aluminum, was then welded and fabricated entirely in-house. Total material cost was about $14,000. 

The wagon features six spigots, three to a side, that allow the public to draw water to refill their bottles and containers. The tap handles are fashioned in the image of a local water tower. The wagon also features five drinking fountains — known locally as bubblers — mounted at kid-level for younger customers. 

“We get the water directly from the city system,” Barrilleaux says. “The Madison Parks Division has also installed special spigots on public water fountains that allow us to hook directly into the system from there.” 

The water is cooled with a heaping helping of ice and a heat exchanger constructed of copper tubing that keeps it chilled throughout the day. 

The Water Wagon debuted at the May 2012 Ride the Drive, an event in which public streets are cleared of vehicle traffic and opened to bikers, pedestrians and rollerbladers. 

“Since then, the Water Wagon has gotten really popular,” Barrilleaux says. “We’re everywhere.” 

The wagon is hauled to events by a city vehicle and operated by utility staff members, including Barrilleaux. The wagon makes stops at local schools, farmers’ markets, athletic competitions and other events from late March to September. Event organizers can also request an appearance by the Water Wagon at their functions. 

A weekly schedule posted on the utility’s website lists upcoming wagon appearances. During the peak season in July, the wagon may deliver water three to four times per week. 

Fun and educational 

“It’s been a great program, not only to demonstrate what our water tastes like, but also as an educational tool,” Barrilleaux says. “For example, at schools we might talk about the health benefits of drinking water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages, or the environmental challenges presented by the use of plastic water bottles.” 

The popularity of the program has exploded since spring, with requests for an appearance by the Water Wagon at an all-time high. Public recognition is also increasing. 

“Lately, every time we pull in with the wagon, people already have their bottles ready,” Barrilleaux says. “They’re asking for water right now.”


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