see it clearly

White House Green Fountain

The White House green fountain appeared for the first time 2009. Like most things in politics, you can’t please everyone, and reaction to the green fountain was mixed. Some people thought the green tinted water was out of place, while others thought it was a fun and festive touch.

White House Fountain

Why a Green Fountain?

The White House green fountain was Michelle Obama’s idea for marking the St. Patrick’s Day holiday in March, 2009. In the Obamas’ hometown of Chicago, the river is routinely dyed green to mark the occasion. According to The Huffington Post, Chicago’s tradition was the inspiration for the First Lady’s idea.

The green fountain was part of a larger series of St. Patrick’s Day events held by the White House. The President met with Irish prime minister Brian Cowen and then delivered a speech hailing the impact of Irish culture on American culture. He also pointed to his mother’s Irish roots as playing an important role in his upbringing. The day wrapped up with a White House performance by Irish singing group Celtic Thunder.

Although the First Lady pointed to Chicago as the inspiration for her idea, dying things green for St. Patrick’s Day is a national phenomenon. From beers to bagels, pizza dough and donuts, green dye is added to a long list of food and beverages to get people in the spirit for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.

In 2009 at the White House, green dye was added to both the north and south lawns fountains. They remained green for a few days until the dye ran out.

How Did The Water Go Green?

Contrary to popular believe, mass quantities of food coloring are not used to dye water green for St. Patrick’s Day. Although food coloring is often used in small doses for the food items that go green for the holiday, large amounts of water is a different story. A vegetable-based dye, used by the military for sea rescues, creates the emerald hue. The same dye is often used by plumbers to locate leaks in water systems.

A relatively small amount of dye is needed to create the green effect. Approximately 25 pounds of dye colors the entire Chicago River for up to three days.

White House Green Fountain – Reactions

Predictably, not everyone was pleased with the decision to have the White House fountains go green for St. Patrick’s Day.

The outcry was largest from the environmentalist community. Many environmental activists were concerned about the impact of the dye on the water, including any runoff from the fountain, the impact on birds and other animals that may drink from the fountain and the danger of the dye seeping into the larger water supply. Some environmental activists also believed that the Obamas’ decision to dye the fountain compromised their ability to be advocates for change to environmental policies.

In reality, the vegetable based dye has been proven to be very safe. It has no long lasting environmental impact and is safe for both human and animal consumption. Although the dye that was used to color the Chicago River used to be a damaging oil based dye, that practice was changed in the 60s, and eco-friendly vegetable dye has been the standard ever since.

Most other opinions about the fountain were about perception. Some people felt that dyeing the fountain green was tacky and not the sort of display that belonged at the White House. Others found it to be a fun touch that wowed the kids and nice gesture for Americans of Irish descent.

Though the opinionated groups traded barbs on message boards for weeks, the green fountain itself was merely a blip. The water returned to its normal clear within a few days.

Heather McDonald