SAN JOSE - A $500,000 program to promote drinking of free, clean tap water with bottle-filling stations in schools and other public spaces throughout Santa Clara County was announced in San Jose today.

The "Water to Go" program involves installing about 100 of the 5-foot-high stations for filling personal water containers -- attached to a regular drinking fountain -- over the next three years.

Supervisor Ken Yeager and officials of the county Public Health Department, Santa Clara Valley Water District and the non-profit FIRST 5 of Santa Clara County held a news conference this morning at the Plaza de Cesar Chavez Park in downtown San Jose to trumpet the program.

Beau Goldie, chief executive of the Santa Clara Valley Water District; Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Ken Yeager; Potter the Otter;
Beau Goldie, chief executive of the Santa Clara Valley Water District; Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Ken Yeager; Potter the Otter; county Public Health Director Dan Peddycord; and Jolene Smith, executive director of First 5 Santa Clara County, pose for a photo with one of the new water bottle filling stations in downtown San Jose. (PHOTO BY JEFF BURBANK)

The main goal of "Water to Go" is to get children to opt for water over high-calorie sugary drinks that can lead to obesity and diabetes, Yeager said.

"The whole reasoning behind this is the childhood epidemic that we are facing here in Santa Clara County where one of out of two children is either obese or overweight," Yeager said.

"But it isn't enough just to send the message not to drink the sugary beverages, you have to have an alternative," he said. "We're trying to make drinking water more attractive."

"Now kids and families will actually be able to fill their water bottles, have healthy water to drink as they go on their way," said Jolene Smith, chief executive of FIRST 5, a group focused on improving health for children 5 years old and younger.

Seven cities in the county have agreed to have the stations, including San Jose, Campbell, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Gilroy, Los Altos Hills and Santa Clara, said Nicole Coxe, project leader for Water to Go for the public health department.

Of those, all but Gilroy already have some in operation, such as one next to a youth baseball field in Los Altos Hills and one at a library in Santa Clara, Coxe said.

To pay for the stations, the county has pitched in $125,000, FIRST 5 donated $125,000 and the Santa Clara Valley Water District is using $254,000 in funds from the clean water initiative Measure B, approved by voters in 2012, according to Yeager's spokesman Jim Weston.

About 100 stations, many of them in public schools, are to be installed within the county over a three-year span, including 70 by next summer, according to Bonnie Broderick, senior health care program manager for public health department.

Yeager, who mentioned the water filling station program in his State of the County Speech last January, said he first thought about it after once seeing a water filling station at San Francisco International Airport.

San Francisco "has had (the program) for quite a while," Yeager said. "That was the only one I'd ever come across, and I thought gee what a great idea."

"I thought that if we could have people drink more water, and these water stations seemed to be so popular and knowing the conditions of so many water faucets, that this would be the way to go," he said.