Auckland Council wants to increase the number of drinking fountains across the city - but a stocktake has revealed many existing fountains are dirty.
Hundreds of fountains across the region were checked for cleanliness, including whether there was mould too close to the spout, or if there was rubbish in the fountain.
The survey also assessed drinkability, using criteria such as the flow of water and whether it spurted out high enough for easy and hygienic drinking.
A councillor says the results are troubling, and reflect a wider problem of basic services not being provided.
Almost four-in-10 drinking fountains in Auckland have been found to be dirty, with mould and rubbish among problems.
Other issues included water not spurting high enough to allow easy drinking and discolouration from limescale.
The Weekend Herald can reveal results from a comprehensive survey of hundreds of the city's public drinking fountains, done as part of a project to get people drinking more water.
Health officials are increasingly worried about cheap, sugary drinks rotting teeth and fuelling obesity and chronic disease. However, the survey showed drinking fountains were often unusable.
Of the 282 fountains checked, 38 per cent were dirty - meaning significant discolouration from limescale or mould within a centimetre of the spout, and/or rubbish in the fountain.
"Drinkability" was also checked, using criteria including the flow of water, whether water height was higher than 5cm, and if the fountain could be easily reached, or if it was obstructed by muddy areas, for example. Seventy per cent of fountains were deemed drinkable.
Almost all fountains were functioning, and only a handful had minor vandalism. The work checked the condition of the drinking fountain, not water quality.
The "Wai Auckland" work was done by the Healthy Auckland Together coalition, including Auckland Council, Auckland and Counties Manukau DHBs, Auckland Transport and Auckland Regional Public Health Service.
A University of Auckland nutrition student was employed last summer to survey drinking fountains, and interim findings have now been sent to the council's community facilities department.
A council spokesman said results would be shared more widely when finalised.
"They will be used to help inform local board investment decisions on the provision of new water fountains, or the renewal of existing drinking water fountains. Additionally, we are investigating making the location of existing water fountains available to Aucklanders online."
Waitematā and Gulf ward councillor Mike Lee said basic responsibilities of local government were not being provided. He hoped the fountains had been cleaned up.
"You could consider them trivial things compared to all the major projects. But sanitation and fresh drinking water is a basic responsibility of the super city. And, clearly, it is not delivering ... fresh water and sanitation has been an essential requirement of civilisation going back to the Romans."
Lee said the results reflected what many Aucklanders were telling him about basic services.
"It all goes hand in hand with this outsourcing ideology. Rather than having someone who works for the council for years and knows all of their patch - the grass, the hedges, the fountain, everything - they bring in contractors who come and go, and whose business is not public service but to make a profit for their shareholders."
The Wai Auckland project is a three-year initiative, aiming to encourage people to choose water over sugary fizzy and juice drinks, and increase the number of public water fountains.
A third of Auckland's adults and a quarter of the region's children are obese, and health officials say sugary fizzy and juice drinks are part of the problem - despite Auckland's high-quality tap water. Most fountains and taps are located in central Auckland suburbs, with comparatively few in South, West and North Auckland.
Another aim is to cut down on waste. It's estimated New Zealanders use 168 plastic bottles per capita annually, with a third recycled.
The audit comes after a study published last year found 80 per cent of 54 playgrounds in 17 different council areas in the lower North Island didn't have drinking fountains. Study researcher and University of Otago academic, Nick Wilson, told RNZ at the time that providing drinking water was a way to address obesity rates.
"It's also a central government issue because the taxpayers of New Zealand are forking out money to hospitals to pay for the obesity problem and to pay for pulling rotting teeth out of mouths."
• Auckland Council wants people who have concerns about the condition of a drinking fountain to call 09 301 0101