Nowadays we’re all being encouraged to drink tap water instead of bottled water. This is mostly a good idea: the environmental benefits are inarguable, while the evidence is inconclusive that bottled water is any better for you. That being said, tap water quality is quite poor in some American cities. Here is where you should, and shouldn’t, stick to the bottled stuff.
19. Worst: San Diego, California
A study by the California Department of Public Health found that the tap water in San Diego contained at least eight chemicals at concentrations greater than healthy limits, among them trihalomethanes. On top of that, the water is renowned for its unpleasant taste, due to high mineral content. Keep purchasing bottled water if you live here.
18. Top: Louisville, Kentucky
Unique in America, Louisville’s municipal water has its own trademark, being known as “pure tap.” This reflects the city’s pride in its clean water, which is captured and piped from 70 feet below the Ohio River after being naturally filtered by the aquifer. It needs barely any purification treatment before being ready for consumption.
17. Best: Eldorado Springs, Colorado
Residents of Eldorado Springs, Colorado, have the privilege of drinking America’s best-tasting tap water, as determined by the American Water Works Association’s (AWWA) panel of judges. The best-tasting tap water is chosen according to smell, appearance, flavor, mouth feel, and aftertaste.
16. Worst: Jacksonville, Florida
Although the local government says it is safe to drink, Jacksonville’s tap water has been found to contain dangerous heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and arsenic in excess of health guidelines. Trihalomethanes, byproducts of chlorine disinfection which are thought to be carcinogenic, have also been detected at levels twice the EPA legal limit. Bottled water can definitely claim to be better than that, that’s for sure!
15. Top: New York, New York
It may seem unlikely, but New York City is a national leader in water quality. Its supplies are piped in by the natural force of gravity from well-protected reservoirs in the Catskill Mountains, over 125 miles away. All the more reasons to attend college or university in NYC!
14. Worst: Fresno, California
Fresno might like to be known as “the best little city in the U.S.A.,” but it is a slouch in terms of water quality. Its tap water contains an astonishing 2800 parts per trillion of trihalomethanes on average, which is miles above the goal of 20 parts per trillion set by the California Water Boards. A further eight contaminants have been found in excess of legal limits, including aluminum, manganese, and ethylene dibromide. Recently, in Northeast Fresno, there was an outbreak of discolored water with excessive lead levels.
13. Top: Stevens Point, Wisconsin
Stevens Point’s water is the 2010 winner of the AWWA’s annual taste competition. The water there is treated with phosphate to protect against corrosion, minimizing subsequent contamination from pipes. Talk about insurance quality!
12. Worst: Reno, Nevada
Famous for its casinos, the Biggest Little City in the World has also achieved notoriety as one of the U.S. cities with the worst drinking water. Reno’s water supply has been found to contain more than 11 contaminants, including arsenic, manganese and tetrachloroethylene at levels exceeding EPA limits
11. Top: Silverdale, Washington
Silverdale’s tap water regularly ranks among America’s best at the AWWA’s annual conference in Berkeley Springs. This is because the water is drawn from the deep Green Mountain aquifer, which is so effective at purification that no further treatment is necessary for safe consumption.
10. Worst: Houston, Texas
Houston’s water has been found to contain excessive levels of up to 18 contaminants, including very high levels of chromium 6 (a toxin that isn’t currently regulated by the EPA but is thought to act as a carcinogen) as well as haloacetic acids. The sources of contamination include nuclear testing and poorly handled mining pollution. We’ll buy bottled water here for sure.
9. Top: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Thanks to being sourced from six specially constructed reservoirs and being purified with ozone, Oklahoma City’s water is not only safe, but also has a pleasant neutral flavor. It was recognized as America’s best-tasting tap water at the AWWA’s annual conference in 2007 and 2013.
8. Worst: Omaha, Nebraska
Omaha’s water contains 20 contaminants that exceed a healthy maximum. In addition, the water contains relatively high levels of lead and very high levels of chromium 6.
7. Top: Denver, Colorado
The water in Denver may have a distinctively mineral, grassy flavor, given that a lot of it derives from Rocky Mountains snow melted into the South Platte River, but many locals enjoy it for that. More importantly, the water is particularly clean, according to regular tests.
6. Worst: Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas earns two dishonorable mentions on this list, since the city itself as well as the neighboring Las Vegas Valley area are known for their poor tap water, which has been found to be contaminated with heavy metals including lead, arsenic, and even uranium. The fact that the Las Vegas Water District recommends pregnant women to consult their doctor before drinking the tap water should be enough to ring alarm bells. The city should probably invest in its water system instead of hotel and casino industries…
5. Top: Manchester, New Hampshire
Manchester draws its water from Lake Massabesic, where swimming and water skiing are prohibited, and then uses an ozone purification process. The result is so clean that it has been praised by the Partnership for Safe Water.
4. Worst: Haworth Borough, New Jersey
Visitors to this quiet borough are advised to bring their own water, as lead levels have been increasing in municipal water in recent years. The local provider has begun adding anti-corrosive chemicals to the water and stepped up the replacement of old lead pipes, but contamination remains stubbornly high.
3. Top: Greenville, South Carolina
In this Southern city, residents can enjoy smooth-tasting water. It is drawn from reservoirs located in the pristine and protected foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
2. Worst: Pensacola, Florida
In 2009, sunny Pensacola was declared to have America’s worst tap water, with a full 21 chemicals found to exceed health guidelines. These included lead, benzene, radium, and carbon tetrachloride. When you need health insurance to drink tap water, you know the quality is really bad…
1. Top: Emporia, Kansas
This little city (population 25,000) boasts water that regularly places among the top 3 municipal waters at the AWWA’s annual contest—in 2017, it was even rated the second-best in the world. Again, an ozone purification process seems to be crucial in producing clean, neutral-tasting water.