In Other Words : The History of Torets (and where on earth all that water comes from)

The torets. Those cute mini-bull drinking fountains that seem to pop up everywhere around town. And bless this hell-sauna of a summer (props to global-warming) with some of the city’s most refreshing droplets of water. While beloved by the town, no one in it – not even born and raised torinesi – seems to be so sure about their origin (nor that of their water).

The earliest Toret goes back to 1862 – meaning back to Vittorio Emanuele I, responsible for the unification of the Kingdom of Italy and its first King. Its main goal was to guarantee access to clean water to all of Turin’s citizens.

The water’s origin has actually changed overtime,  which explains the citizens confusing answers about it. It was first recuperated from the Sorgente del Plin, so it was truly one constant water stream of mineral water directly from Piedmont’s sources, but now it all comes from the city’s general cistern, meaning that it is the same water that runs from our faucets at home. 

Despite it being mineral water no longer, it remains a treated, potable, high quality flow of water. In light of recent events (the birth of the awareness of the finitude of the planet’s ressources, climate change, the willingness to avoid wasting water), an environmental debate has arised: shouldn’t we close the water flow ? The water that is not consumed is deemed used and dirty all the same, and it gets redirected to the city’s general water treatments, therefore indeed wasting precious amounts of water. To torinesi, who defend said infrastructure tooth and nail, turning off one of their dearest town emblems – which embodies early modernity and empathy – seems to be a no-no.

But how to make the fountains more eco-friendly ? What solution would be best to keep them functioning with minimum water waste ? Hydraulic engineers themselves do not seem to agree on any kind of a solution. Some argue to install a built-in on demand system – meaning installing buttons that control the liberation of water. However, doing so would demand either an astronomical investment – followed by long, inconvenient rebuilding requiring most of the piping to be replaced – either cause the water to accumulate inside of the green bulls, thus filling the internal infrastructure with mold, thus compromising the water’s quality and possibly subjecting the Torets to a slow death. Others argue that the best solution would simply be to keep them as is and stimulate sparing in other situations, through awareness raising campaigns. This summer’s debate looks like it is going to be an open one for quite some time. 

Maria Luisa Benjamin

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