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Best & Worst Tap Water in the US: State-by-State Analysis

Scott Winfield
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by Scott Winfield

Tap water is essential in our lives – we cook, drink, wash our dishes and bodies in it. Unfortunately, despite government regulations, there are some parts of the United States where the water isn’t all that clean or healthy for human consumption.

In this article, we’ll discuss:

Who Monitors Water Quality in the US?

The Environmental Protection Agency monitors water quality in the United States. Water quality, especially for tap and drinking water, is protected under the Safe Drinking Water Act. This act stipulates regulations for safe and contaminants free water across the United States.

Tap water
Tap Water

The SDWA was created in 1974 and amended in 1986 and 1996. Since then, the EPA has monitored all water sources in the United States to ensure its safety from both artificial and natural contaminants. In addition, the EPA works with other governmental branches, including the FDA, to spread information and educate on clean water best practices.

States With the Best Tap Water in the US

Here are the top 10 states with the best tap water in the US:

  1. Oregon
  2. Massachusetts
  3. South Dakota
  4. Minnesota
  5. New Hampshire
  6. Kansas
  7. Missouri
  8. Rhode Island
  9. Vermont
  10. Hawaii

Even though several government agencies regulate tap water across the country, some states have it better than others due to natural resources. It is also due to other aspects, such as clean, leak-free pipes and better filtration of contaminants.

These states have the best tap water in the United States due to their natural environment and government care. Although the EPA monitors tap water, it is primarily up to the state governments to treat and maintain their water sources before distributing to various homes.

Oregon

Oregon’s tap water is clean and safe to drink due to having natural water sources. The state gets most of its tap water from the Bull Run Watershed, which has been tested as one of the least contaminated natural watersheds in the United States. Due to this, Oregon’s water is mostly clean.

Oregon is a state with minimal pollution, especially in the north where the watershed begins. The state is environmentally conscious and keeps artificial pollutants out of the water.

Massachusetts

Massachusetts does not have the natural benefits of a pollutant-free watershed. Unlike Oregon, the state has relied mainly on governmental efforts to ensure that its water remains clean and safe for the people. Massachusetts is on this list because of the state government’s diligence in treating water supply before distributing to homes.

The EPA has a strict set of standards for water control, but the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has an even higher set of rules. In this state, citizens are notified immediately of any contaminants, and the problem is taken care of usually within days. The high standards of Massachusetts water authorities set the example for other states to emulate.

South Dakota

South Dakota might have the best water record in the nation. Although it’s not an overly populated state, South Dakota consistently meets the EPA’s water quality requirements. 95% or more of the population passes all EPA standards for clean and accessible water.

In addition, the state has been awarded the Secretary’s Award for Drinking Water Excellence for 18 years straight; meaning the state has passed water examinations with no violations for almost two decades. As a result, South Dakota’s water is clean and safe for human consumption.

Minnesota

Minnesota is another northern state with close access to natural water sources. Because of this, the state’s water is naturally cleaner than most states. However, Minnesota isn’t one of the purest water states in the nation simply because of its connection to rich natural resources. It also has to do with the state government’s assistance to the water suppliers.

Saint Paul and Minneapolis, the Twin Cities of Minnesota, have some of the cleanest tap water in the US. The Minnesota Department of Health has offered grants and assistance to water suppliers throughout the Twin Cities and the entire state.

New Hampshire

New Hampshire is another state that goes above and beyond the EPA’s requirements for clean water. The drinking water in New Hampshire is cleaner than in many other states, but not because of natural resources. Instead, it’s the fantastic filtration process/system and the state’s environmental protection acts that keep the drinking water near the top of the list.

In addition to banning common contaminants, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services limits PFA compounds, harmful chemicals that can leak off of non-stick cookware and plastics. In banning these, New Hampshire treats its water even further and makes it safer for everyone.

Kansas

Because Kansas is one of the nation’s largest agricultural producers, it’s crucial that the water is clean as well. Water for the residents is immaculate thanks to the state’s stringent laws and filtration measures. The level of cleanliness is due to Kansas’ environmental laws and the repercussions of unclean water.

Known as the Wheat State, almost 90% of Kansas is farmland. The state uses most of its water supply to grow crops and provide its inhabitants with income, food, and export.

Missouri

Missouri’s government has more regulations in addition to the EPA’s drinking water laws. Besides yearly testing for specific contaminants, the Missouri public water officials must report more often and comprehensively on the cleanliness level of their city’s drinking water than the EPA requires.

These strict laws have led to some of the cleanest water in the United States and worldwide. However, it’s not only clean, but the water in Missouri also tastes better. For several years, the town of Independence, Missouri, has been named one of the best-tasting tap water locations in the world.

Rhode Island

Rhode Island is the smallest state in America but has multiple natural water resources to provide the citizens with some of the cleanest water in the nation. Rhode Island collects water from its natural resources and protects it with additional laws and monitoring.

Rhode Island has stringent water pollution laws, including preventing wastewater discharges, water pollution, and water monitoring. Because 80% of the state’s freshwater comes from groundwater, it’s crucial to be extra careful about pollution. Rhode Island might be small, but the water is some of the cleanest in the country.

Vermont

The Environmental Protection Agency requires at least 95% of homes to have access to clean water. Vermont has always met this requirement with ease, as upwards of 97% of Vermont’s homes have safe and clean access to water. Most of the population gets water from the public water system.

Public water systems in Vermont are some of the cleanest in the nation, with more routine monitoring than many other states. These laws are helped by the quality of the natural water supply. Much of Vermont’s groundwater is safe to drink, making the state a natural haven for clean public water systems.

Hawaii

Hawaii is a fantastic place to live in the United States, not just because of the warm weather and island life. Hawaii ranks first in water cleanliness and second in air cleanliness, making it environmentally safe for everyone.

Much of Hawaii’s tap water comes from freshwater streams in the volcanic regions of the islands. The state relies on these streams for its water as it is entirely surrounded by saltwater otherwise. As a result, the island state’s environment is fragile and protected by strict laws and regulations.

States With the Worst Tap Water in the US

While there are states with clean and healthy tap water, other states struggle to maintain the clarity and cleanliness required by the EPA. With over 90 contaminants to watch out for, leaky pipes, and chemical or oil spills, these states have struggled to match the guidelines put out by the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Here are the top 10 states with the worst tap water in the US:

  1. New Jersey
  2. Georgia
  3. Arizona
  4. Ohio
  5. Florida
  6. Texas
  7. Michigan
  8. California
  9. Pennsylvania
  10. Washington

If you live in one of these states, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your drinking water is unhealthy. However, you should check your local government site and the EPA to find out the adequate pre-treatment method before drinking.

New Jersey

New Jersey is home to many of America’s factories and industrial complexes. As a result, the state has released BPA and PFC into the land’s habitat and water supply.

In addition, New Jersey doesn’t have many natural water sources. Because of these two factors, the water in New Jersey isn’t as clean as some other states.

For several years, the public water systems in New Jersey have been in violation of many of EPA’s drinking water codes. In Newark, many residents rely on bottled water or store-bought filtered water. The state is working on legislation for cleaner water.

Georgia

Georgia is home to almost 11 million people but unfortunately has some dangerously unclean water. Because of the factories and levels of pollution in the state’s natural water sources, several dangerous chemicals are well above the legal requirements.

Radium and THMs are some of the chemicals present in much of Georgia’s water. These both have links to multiple kinds of cancer and are present in higher amounts than is safe. As a result, Georgia’s water is unsafe in many parts of the state. If you live in Georgia, check with your local authorities to see how safe your tap water is.

Arizona

Arizona is a desert state and doesn’t have a lot of natural water. To compound the issue, the imported water and scarce natural water aren’t very clean. However, many people drink it anyway, as they have no other option.

Arizona’s water is high in chromium-6, which is a carcinogen. Unfortunately, the water filtration system present in some of Arizona’s cities isn’t good enough to clean the water. If you live in or are visiting Arizona, check with your local municipality to learn more about your water quality.

Ohio

Ohio is another state that has a lot of agriculture and industry. Although there are natural water resources, the pollution from former mining towns and industrial complexes has caused Ohio to be one of the most polluted states in the nation. Unfortunately, tap water suffers from this.

Towns and cities in Ohio have suffered from lead exposure, carcinogens, and coal pollutants. Unfortunately, the filtration system isn’t good enough to clean the tap water of all the contaminants, and many of Ohio’s public water systems are in violation of the EPA’s codes.

Florida

Florida is a state that had clean water in the past but recently has become one of the most dangerous states to live in. The tap water in Florida has been hazardous since 2018 when two separate ecological crises hit the state.

In the wake of several devastating hurricanes, there were two different algae outbreaks in Florida. The Red Tide epidemic affected the saltwater, while blue-green algae covered ponds and streams. In addition to the pollution from poor agricultural practices, these algae outbreaks caused the water in Florida to become increasingly unhealthy.

Texas

Texas also borders the Gulf of Mexico and has had issues with red tide and algae outbreaks. However, the state is enormous, and not all areas are affected by the gulf waters. Inland Texan communities unfortunately have some of the most irradiated and polluted water in the country.

Rural communities suffer the most in Texas and aren’t helped by the state government because of their small populations. However, hundreds of public water systems are in violation of the EPA’s standards, some severely so. Lead, arsenic, and radiation are common issues in Texas water.

Michigan

If you think of bad drinking water, Michigan might be the first place to come to mind. The 2014 Flint Water Crisis made the news when several people near Flint, Michigan, died of lead poisoning from drinking tap water.

Of course, this water was not in line with the EPA’s standards, and the public water system wasn’t accurately reporting the lead levels.

Michigan has improved since then but still struggles with high levels of lead and carcinogens in the water levels. The state has a good score, but eastern Michigan (near Flint and Detroit) consistently has lower scores. Western and Northern Michigan have relatively clean water, thanks to the Great Lakes.

California

Like Texas and other large states, California’s poor water quality primarily affects its lower-income, more rural areas. Many farmlands and other rural areas suffer from a low-quality water supply. Over 1 million California residents each year receive an unhealthy water supply with pollutants.

California’s cities make their own standards, separate from the state standards, which is why this poor quality affects rural and country communities. However, the state government of California has been actively trying to rectify the situation. Although it may take years, California is on the right track for clean and healthy water.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania is often listed as the worst in America when it comes to clean and safe drinking water. The state is one of the industrial capitals of the United States. While this is good for the economy, it’s added pollutants to the local water system. Unfortunately, this also affects the drinking water and makes it difficult for many cities in Pennsylvania to access clean drinking water.

Most of Pennsylvania’s water issues come from years of unregulated coal mining. Without governmental regulations in place to protect the surrounding environment, the coal has contaminated local water sources. Although coal mining is no longer central to Pennsylvania’s economy, the effects of mining are still seen in the state’s waterways and tap water.

Washington

Washington is another state that should have clean water. While Washington has plenty of natural resources when it comes to fresh water, it does not provide good quality drinking water to many of its residents. Outside the state’s eco-conscious larger cities, there are many rural communities with some of the most toxic water in the country.

Washington has received failing grades from the EPA for not adequately testing for lead, failing to filter water, and not providing clean water to multiple communities, partly because of the environmental changes and drying up of natural water resources around the state.

We have separate water report articles for some popular cities not mentioned in this guide:

US State/City Tap Water Report Link
San Diego tap water
Atlanta tap water
Seattle tap water
Boston tap water
Chicago tap water
Denver tap water
LA tap water
San Francisco tap water
Dallas tap water
NYC tap water
San Jose tap water

How Tap Water is Determined Clean/Safe to Drink

Tap water for each state in the US is measured via a Point system. The EPA uses a graded approach to rate each state based on how many water code violations have occurred per 1,000 people. Each public water system is required to report its water quality and how many violations have occurred each year.

Public water systems run tests on their water tanks, filtration systems, and pipelines every year. They measure the results of these tests against the national standard, and points are deducted for each Safe Drinking Water Act violation.

A violation involves at least one of the 90 possible contaminants listed under the SDWA. While some contaminants are more dangerous than others, none of the 90 should be in the water system. A public water system with multiple contaminants might be shut down.

With this system, the EPA can determine how healthy the water is in each state. If water is extremely unhealthy, the federal government might provide the community with federal aid. Tap water is determined safe by the absence of contaminants in the SDWA.

The 5 Most Common US Tap Water Contaminants

Of course, not all 90 SDWA contaminants are common. Some are very rare, while others occur naturally and have to be filtered out of water. Here are the top five most common water contaminants and why they are dangerous:

1. Lead

The most common contaminant in water supplies is lead. In small amounts, lead isn’t dangerous. However, too much lead can lead to lead poisoning, which can occur months or even years after lead exposure.

Lead in Drinking Water
Lead in Drinking Water

Lead enters water supplies in cities or areas with old pipes. If the lines were made of lead, the chemical could seep into the water. You should replace older pipes with a different type of metal to prevent lead poisoning or choose any of the lead water removal methods.

2. Mercury

While mercury may occur naturally, most of the mercury found in water (especially household drinking water) is due to different types of runoff: industrial, commercial, medical, residential, and sewage discharge.

Mercury in water
Mercury in water

Although small amounts of mercury are harmless, mercury poisoning occurs when too much mercury is ingested, breathed in, or touched, leading to kidney failure and other dangerous issues.

3. Chlorine

When people think of chlorination, they associate the word with pools. However, much of our drinking water is chlorinated to keep it safe. A safe amount of chlorine is frequently added to a city’s tap water as a disinfectant to protect against waterborne disease.

Chlorine in drinking water
Chlorine in drinking water

However, if you are sensitive to chlorine, you can remove it from water using a water filter or other chlorine removal methods.

4. Pesticides/Herbicides

Pesticides and herbicides are often used in the farming industry. They kill off pests to prevent them from destroying crops. However, herbicides and pesticides sometimes run off the crops and into the surface water of the surrounding area.

Pesticides or Herbicides in water
Pesticides/Herbicides in water

If these toxins and poisons are in drinking water, they may cause health issues, depending on the strength of the chemicals used and the level of concentration.

5. Volatile Organic Compounds

Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs, are mostly man-made compounds that evaporate quickly. These are in many products, from paint to chloroform, but they are challenging to monitor in the water supply.

Volatile Organic Compounds
Volatile Organic Compounds in water

VOCs are some of the most dangerous compounds in water and are strictly regulated by the EPA. The most common VOC is actually chloroform. This chemical appears in drinking water that has been chlorinated, and the chlorine has interacted with organic matter in the water itself.

What To Do if You Have Bad Tap Water

If you’re worried about your tap water or see your state listed above, you can take steps to ensure your family’s safety. First, you should contact your local public water supplier and ask for a copy of their latest report. Water quality reports are on the public record and available for view.

You can also run a tap water test at home. Water test kits are available online and can measure the presence of certain chemicals in your tap water. If you decide to run your own tap water test, make sure you buy two and test them a few days apart for the best accuracy.

If water is terrible in your area, it might take a while for the government to fix the municipal water treatment plants/processes. Therefore, having portable water purification devices such as a reverse osmosis water filter or point-of-entry water filtration systems for home can significantly improve your water quality.

While the EPA monitors the status of water safety in each region, you may still be drinking contaminated water. If your municipality hasn’t met the water standards set, they will have to notify you in their annual Consumer Confidence Report. Bottled water or store-bought gallons of water might be your best option. Ask your local public water supply if you’re having issues, and they can help troubleshoot and offer solutions.

Conclusion

Some of the best and worst states for water may be surprising. After all, states like Washington are known for their lush wildlife and ample water resources. The state with the best water of all may be the most surprising considering Hawaii is entirely surrounded by seawater.

However, no matter where you live, you need to be aware of what is in your tap water. You may live in a city or municipality that doesn’t have rigorous standards like the rest of your state.

In such cases, if you’re worried about things like VOCs, pesticide runoff, or lead, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your home. Update your pipes, or consider getting a quality water filter to remove the contaminants.

For the most part, the EPA does a fantastic job of setting standards to keep our drinking water safe. Contact your local water supplier today to learn more about your tap water.

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Scott Winfield
Scott Winfield
My name is Scott Winfield and researching and writing about water filters and other strategies to purify water has become my full time passion in recent years. I'm glad that you found our site and you can look forward to authoritative and well researched content here to help you get the best in water.
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