Jobs: Who keeps public water fountains clean?

Jobs: Who keeps public water fountains clean? »Play Video
To clean the Bubblers a dense solution is used to scrub off grime then the fountains own water pressure is used to wash off the solution via a small hose.

PORTLAND, Ore. - Someone has to keep the public water fountains clean.

In Portland, that someone is Rich Rice.

Rich Rice started out as a gardener for the Portland Water Bureau. After 11 years he earned the title of Ground Maintenance Supervisor.

His division is responsible for keeping Portland’s public landscapes beautiful.

The surprising aspect of his job is the maintenance of the Benson Bubblers, the public drinking fountains that are scattered across the city.

A crew of 15 workers covers 10 routes each day to clean all 135 Benson Bubblers.

The majority of the fountains are four bowl bubblers made of brass; a few are single bowl bubblers; and one is a three bowl bubbler made of steel.

The fountains were originally manufactured in the basement of Benson High School.

“They’re beautiful. Truly a work of art,” said Rice.

The bubblers are placed in areas with an abundance of foot traffic or someplace aesthetically pleasing, in accordance with the wishes of the Benson family, who still own the fountains and therefore have the final say in where they are placed. 

The latest bubbler added to the collection is at the Vera Katz memorial at the waterfront.

Cleaning a brass water fountain with four bowls is not easy.

According to Rice each style of fountain takes a different technique. Since the four bowlers have less surface area than the single bowlers, they take less time and effort to clean.

When cleaning the bubblers the grounds crew only cleans the actually drinking area, anything else would deduct from the fountains’ natural patina.

“Plenty of people say, ‘I wouldn’t drink out of it,’” said Rice. “Well, I do.”