Amiya Iqbal

San Mateo County coast resident Amiya Iqbal stands by the water refill station she proposed for Pillar Point Harbor.

What started as a community service project has resulted in a new, environmentally conscious way to quench the thirst of those visiting one of the most heavily trafficked areas of the Coastside.

This year, a local Girl Scout and the San Mateo County Harbor District collaborated on a new water bottle refill station that’s now installed at the bathrooms near the Harbormaster's Office next to Johnson Pier. El Granada resident Amiya Iqbal proposed the project to the San Mateo County Harbor Commission in December, and her idea met with resounding approval by the board, which agreed to fully fund the cost.

Iqbal, a 14-year-old Cadette who has been in the Girl Scouts since kindergarten, launched the project to complete her Girl Scouts Silver Award, which challenges Scouts to come up with creative and impactful solutions to issues in their community.

Iqbal had two years to complete her Silver Award. After one project she’d worked on for about a year fell through, she quickly pivoted to another. Living and being home-schooled in El Granada, Iqbal frequents Coastside beaches at least once a week and wanted to find a way to reduce the litter on the scenic shores around Pillar Point Harbor. After speaking with the environmentally conscious nonprofit Sea Hugger, she decided to target plastic water bottles.

“There are so many beach cleanup organizations here,” Iqbal said. “And even with that, so much plastic ends up on the beaches.”

Four months after pitching her plan to the Harbor District, the refill station was up and running on April 11. Iqbal coordinated with contractors and Harbor District Director of Operations John Moren about costs and which model to use. Her first choice was more suited to indoor use, poured automatically and had a digital water bottle counter display, but the sensors could be tripped by the sun, she said. The next option was sturdier and required the push of a button to fill the bottle. Costs for the station, installation and plumbing were around $9,000.

Iqbal wanted the station to make an impact in the harbor, a place where she sees lots of litter. She’s still not done, as she’s working on a final report for the Girl Scouts and plans to give the Harbor District some money from a small jewelry business she runs.

“It went much quicker than I thought,” she said. “And I’m glad it’s almost finished.”

Harbor General Manager Jim Pruett said the project proved to be a perfect match, as the district needed a station at Pillar Point Harbor. Plastic water bottles are common trash on the beach and in the water, he said, and commissioners and staff were glad to help Iqbal with her goal.

“More and more people are carrying reusable containers, and they need a place to fill them,” Pruett said. “With a normal drinking fountain, you can’t really do that. What Amiya did was put the project on the front burner of the district because it needed to get done. If we can work with a local Girl Scout to get her star, that just makes the project more beneficial for everybody.” 

August Howell is a staff writer for the Review covering city government and public safety. Previously, he was the Review’s community, arts and sports reporter. He studied journalism at the University of Oregon.

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