As It Happens

This famous Belgian statue was peeing away thousands of litres of drinking water a day

A famous fountain in Brussels will no longer pee away thousands of litres of clean drinking water every day.

City officials say they had no idea Manneken Pis was wasting clean tap water

The famous Manneken Pis fountain in central Brussels. (Francois Lenoir/Reuters)
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Transcript

A famous fountain in Brussels will no longer pee away thousands of litres clean drinking every day.

City officials say they had no idea that the Manneken Pis, or "peeing boy," had been spilling between 1,000 to 2,500 litres of tap water per day into the city's sewage system — enough for 10 households. 

"It's a terrible discovery, but it has changed now," Brussels alderman Benoit Hellings told As It Happens guest host Megan Williams.

An energy technician discovered the water waste issue after installing a tracking meter in the 61-cm fountain statue last year as part of a city-wide project to keep better track of water usage on municipal properties. 

Manneken Pis sports shorts bearing the flags of French-speaking countries for International Francophonie Day. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)

The city thought the famed tourist attraction was running on a closed circuit, recycling its water from a tank. But it appears that at some point, it developed a leak and started taking water directly from the city's taps.

That leak has now been secured, Hellings said, and city officials are checking other fountains for similar problems. 

A man takes a picture of Manneken Pis statue dressed in an outfit designed by French fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier for 2015's Pride celebrations. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)

Manneken Pis is a beloved landmark in Brussels that dates back to the end of the 17th century. The one on display in the city centre is actually a copy of the 1619 original, which is kept in the nearby Museum of the City of Brussels.

It has more than 900 donated costume, which it sports at different times of the of the year in honour of ally countries, holidays, celebrities, professions and other cultural touchstones. 

While the peeing boy is a key component of Belgian folklore, its origins are hotly debated, according to the Guardian newspaper.

Some say it's based on the story of a little boy who urinated from a tree onto attacking enemy solders.

Others cite a 14th-century legend of a boy who saved the city by peeing on a burning fuse lit by enemies trying to knock down its walls. 

Manneken Pis dressed as French singer Michel Polnareff. (Nicolas Maeterlinck//AFP/Getty Images)

The way Hellings heard it, the boy peed on house that was on fire, preventing the flames from spreading to the rest of the city.

"It's a legend, but it's very incredible that the symbol of our city is a little boy peeing," Hellings said.

"It's a symbol of Brussels. We don't care about greatness. You know, we are simple people, and this little boy is a symbol of that way of life. And that's why we're very proud of him."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Produced by Sarah Jackson.

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