10 States with the Worst Tap Water in America
Table of Contents
Updated August 16th, 2023
According to the CDC, America has one of the safest and cleanest water supplies on the planet. Yet, hardly a day goes by without water quality issues cropping up in the national news cycle.
Millions of Americans in various cities across different states (not just Flint, Michigan) are exposed to unsafe drinking water year after year. Perhaps that’s because every year, from 1982 to 2015, between 9 million and 45 million Americans got their drinking water from a source that violated EPA standards. Or, maybe it’s because state and local water authorities have dramatically underestimated the threat of contaminated tap water across the country. Whatever the case, many county residents are forced to deal with the onslaught of toxic contaminants in their water.
If you’re curious if you live in a state with poor water quality, we’ve gathered a list of states in the US with the worst tap water. Should you see your state on this list, don’t worry or panic. We will include a few safe, reliable, and effective filtration methods you can use to treat your tap water and significantly improve its quality.
What makes a state have low-quality water?
Many different factors can contribute to a state’s substandard water quality. One common reason is the deplorable condition of the water infrastructure. For instance, when there’s a leak in a water pipe, the leak creates a vacuum inside the pipe. The vacuum sucks in the untreated water into the pipes, which then combines with the treated water. The water then flows through people’s homes and faucets. Aging pipes can also leach lead, copper, and other heavy metals into the water, bringing dangerous chemicals to your drinking glass.
Another cause of bad-quality tap water is the runoff from agriculture and manufacturing plants. This includes runoff from aut0-industry or coal mining plants leaking into surface waters (rivers, streams, lakes, etc.). While water municipalities may add chlorine to improve the water’s taste and smell, chlorine is not as safe as people think.
Who is responsible for monitoring tap water quality?
In 1974, Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) to strengthen public health protection against dangerous contaminants in water. This law allows states to set standards for tap water quality, as long as they fall in line with those of the EPA. The EPA standards include water-test scheduling, contaminant limits, and treatment methods each state’s water systems must follow. Local water suppliers within each state conduct testing for SDWA every year. After the tests, all community water providers must issue a report to residents.
How We Determined Which States Have the Worst Tap Water
While some states are known for having clean, safe tap water, some remain woefully behind. To identify the latter, we combed through information gathered from a bunch of different sources, including the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Enforcement and Compliance History, the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Tap Water Database, official water quality reports from water utilities, testing results conducted by regulatory agencies, and research data from independent organizations.
Together, these data sources offer a comprehensive overview of the water quality in the different states. But please note that there’s no algorithm, scientific method, or guidelines for ranking statewide drinking water quality. Hence, we’ve not listed them in any particular order. Also, this list is purely based on fact and isn’t influenced by anyone’s beliefs or political affiliation.
If your state isn’t included here, it doesn’t automatically imply your tap water is clean and safe to drink and use. To get a clearer perspective, perform a water test to see what’s up with your local tap water. Okay, time to look into the states where the water tends to be not-so-great.
States with the Worst Tap Water in the US
While some states go above and beyond to ensure safe drinking water for residents, others settle for water that meets the minimum requirement of being drinkable. Here are ten American states with the worse tap water.
Known for its varied climate and beautiful scenery, Washington has one of the most contaminated water supplies in the US. The state’s water contamination threats are diverse. Apart from its growing population hiking up pollution and adding more pressure on surface water and groundwater sources, other factors contributing to its dreadful water quality include low pH, low levels of dissolved oxygen, storm water runoff, warm water temperatures, toxins, and bacteria.
The biggest culprit among them is storm water runoff, which is rain and snow melts that run off surfaces, such as roofs, paved streets, highways, parking lots, etc. As water runs off these surfaces, it can pick up contaminants like animal waste, pesticides, fertilizers, oil, and microplastics. A handful of other contaminants polluting the state’s water include arsenic, uranium, nitrate, radon, radium, chromium, and chloroform. Besides, one or more of these contaminants have been detected at levels above the national safety standards. Worse, some of them are carcinogens (cancer-causing agents), and may also lead to developmental issues, reproductive problems, and liver damage.
Almost three million Washington residents, or over 40 percent of the state’s population, were served unsafe water in 2015.
California is home to warm vineyards, beautiful sunsets, and golden poppies that bloom in wild fields each Spring. But regrettably, California also suffers from highly contaminated water.
Many of the state’s rural farming communities consume water from heavily-tainted sources with arsenic and uranium. When combined with toxic nitrate and nitrite levels from agricultural use, the pollution level is high enough to cause cancer and other adverse health conditions. Sadly, children, pregnant women, and the elderly are the most vulnerable.
In 2015, 2.57 million Californian residents received water from water systems that violated the SDWA, affecting over 832 communities statewide. California’s low-grade drinking water affects mostly its low-income and rural communities. But even if you live in urban areas, err on the side of caution when it comes to your water quality. While California has begun taking action, it may take decades to resolve its many drinking water challenges.
Arizona is widely reputed for its hot low-level deserts covered with cacti and creosote bushes. Located in the western US, the state has a severe water scarcity problem, growing even scarcer each day. But water shortage isn’t the state’s only problem.
Arizona’s tap water is also one of the most dangerous across the nation. Recent reports show that Phoenix’s tap water has the highest average levels of chromium-6, a known carcinogen, in the US. Other toxins linked to cancer and development issues, such as perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), also contaminate the state’s water systems.
Furthermore, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reported that in 2015, Arizona recorded 2,362 violations of the SDWA. Consequently, over 2.46 million residents (36 percent of the state’s population) received contaminated water through their pipes.
From the sunny weather to amazing theme parks, there are plenty of reasons to live in Florida. But if you’re looking to have the highest-quality water running through your pipes, you might want to unpack your luggage right away.
Florida’s poor tap water results from two ecological emergencies that occurred in the state in 2018. During that year, red tide microorganisms drifted into the Gulf of Mexico, and blue-green algae overflowed into lakes, rivers, and the ocean. The double eco-disasters killed massive amounts of marine life and shifted attention to the state’s waters. Florida also experienced an overabundance of fertilizer and other pollutants due to the freshwater algal blooms. Plus, hurricanes and storms caused floods that leached many dangerous contaminants into the water systems, further affecting the state’s drinking water. In some regions across Florida, high counts of coliform bacteria from human waste and unsafe lead and copper levels were reported.
During the 2015 water contamination scandal, a staggering 7.5 million Floridians were supplied water from systems that breached the SDWA.
5. New Jersey
New Jersey is considered one of the best states to live, work, and play in America. There, you’ll find some of the best healthcare, education, and industrial facilities in the country. However, when it comes to gaining access to safe, clean drinking water, that’s a whole different story.
PFCs and other highly toxic synthetic chemicals used in the state’s industrial facilities lingered in its waters for years. These chemicals are used for their water, grease, and heat-resistant properties. However, researchers have discovered that they can be dangerous.
Although companies and manufacturers are phasing PFCs out of production, the chemicals persist in water systems today. These chemicals are linked to cancer, liver damage, and birth and developmental defects. Worse, estimates show that one in five New Jersey residents regularly drink PFCs-tainted water. Other contaminants include lead and chlorine, which exposed over half of New Jersey’s population to unsafe water.
Pennsylvania, aka “The Keystone State,” boasts lush forests, rolling hills, and millions of acres of farmland. It may seem like an ideal place to settle to the casual observer with its rich history and flourishing job market, but the state has a long history of water pollution.
Coal mining was the main offender responsible for the state’s water pollution crisis. A recent study revealed that 20,000 miles of streams in the state do not meet federal standards for fishing and swimming. On top of that, over 200,000 abandoned gas and oil wells regularly overflow, leaching contaminants into the groundwater and surface waters during hard rainfall.
Nearly six million Pennsylvanian residents are supplied with unsafe water. But while state authorities introduced and enforced new policies, nothing much has changed for many small communities.
If you’re ever looking for sunny days and an unlimited supply of pecans, peanuts, and Vidalia onions, Georgia is the place to be – assuming you can overlook the state’s awful water quality.
Georgia’s drinking water is some of the nation’s worst. This is mainly due to its polluted rivers, streams, and wells. In some areas of the “Peach State,” chromium, arsenic, chloroform, radium, bromate, chlorate, and radium levels are reported well above legal guidelines. Trihalomethanes (THMs), linked to skin cancer, bladder cancer, and fetal development issues, were also detected in some water systems.
8. Puerto Rico
A trip to Puerto Rico introduces you to a world of colorful colonial charisma, where American and Spanish influences combine to offer a cultural Caribbean paradise. One minute you’re sticking your toes into the pure white sands, and the next, you’re probably downing contaminants from a drinking-water glass.
Since hurricanes Irma and Maria hit the island in 2017, living conditions have changed for the worse. The storms wreaked havoc throughout the island, shutting down infrastructure and tourism for months. Even today, the island has yet to recover fully. Electrical outages and unreliable generators have caused a lack of running water, and when it does run, it is discolored and full of sediment. In response, the government has urged residents to boil their water for three minutes before use.
But even before the hurricanes, nearly all of Puerto Rico’s water supplies violated safety standards. In 2015, the NRDC reported that 3.46 million Puerto Rico residents (99.5 percent of its total population) received unsafe water through their taps.
Texas, also known as the “Lone Star State,” is famous for its BBQ, live music, hot temperatures – and woeful water quality.
The most contaminated water systems are located in the state’s small rural communities where resources are scarce, and populations are usually around 100 people per provider. Some of the most dangerous pollutants tainting the water supply are arsenic, lead, and radiation, partly due to old pipes and contaminants leaching into waterways.
Shockingly, about 12.07 million Texans are served with unsafe water, and the quality doesn’t seem to be improving. According to recent reports, Texas has the country’s most radiated drinking water.
While Ohio is one of America’s largest industrial centers, it is home to some of its worst drinking water.
The large-scale industrial operations across the state have contributed significantly to high levels of lead in its tap water, leading to brief shutdowns of schools and businesses. Many Ohio residents are still served water tainted with iron, sulfate, and other mineral compounds.
Like some other states, many Texans (2.96 million, to be exact) received contaminated water from community systems, putting over 25 percent of the state’s population at risk.
How Does Contamination Occur?
The water quality problems plaguing these states don’t just happen by chance. Many factors play a role, such as:
Runoff: When it rains, the water doesn’t always disappear into the ground—it runs off surfaces such as rooftops, roads, and fields. Sometimes, this runoff picks up chemicals, heavy metals, and other toxic contaminants from nearby industrial plants and dumps them into rivers and streams that supply water to our homes. Rainwater can also transport dirt, fertilizers, pesticides, and grease from streets, construction sites, and farms into lakes, rivers, and oceans.
Aging infrastructure: America’s water infrastructure is in pretty bad shape. The system is aging, underfunded, and neglected, which is terrible news for tap water quality in many states. Some of its oldest pipes were laid before World War II and had an average life span of 75 to 100 years. Do the math on that, and you’d see why many of them are deteriorating and causing many problems for Americans today.
For instance, along its 2.2 million miles of pipes are old, leaky, corroding lead service lines. Water flowing through these rusty pipes can leach tiny lead particles, dirt, and bacteria from the pipe’s walls. When this water reaches our homes, it might not be as clean and safe as we’d like.
Lack of funding: Many municipalities know the issues with their water systems. They know what problems exist and what needs to be done. But there’s often a significant roadblock: funding. Proper funding is necessary to fix leaky pipes, upgrade treatment plants, and ensure safe drinking water for the public. Otherwise, these critical projects often get delayed or scrapped altogether. The recent Infrastructure Law delivers more than $50 billion to the EPA to “improve our nation’s drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure.” However, it’s too early to determine the impact these funds will have.
Natural disasters and disruptions: Nature has a way of throwing us curveballs, like earthquakes, wildfires, hurricanes, and floods. Unfortunately, many of these natural events can disrupt water treatment facilities, almost instantly making drinking water unsafe.
Imagine a hurricane hitting, and the floodwaters mix with animal waste, toxic chemicals, and field runoff. These tainted waters often end up in surface sources that supply water to municipal water systems. Lightning can also strike water treatment plants, knocking out power. And when the power goes out, our water treatment can go right with it.
Water treatment plants need electricity to operate. Although many usually have backup generators, they may not readily obtain fuel to run the generators, especially during powerful storms or if the power goes for an extended period. As a result, the water may be under-treated, causing chemicals, toxins, and debris to leach into the public water system.
Is Bottled Water a Viable Solution?
Bottled water might seem like an excellent alternative for those concerned about tap water quality. But did you know it is sometimes as unclean as tap water in many states? Consumer Reports found that certain bottled water brands contain detectable levels of various contaminants, including PFAS chemicals, heavy metals, bacteria, volatile organic compounds, disinfection by-products, and radioactive elements, among many others. This is no surprise since a considerable part of many bottled water brands is effectively tap water taken from municipal sources, sometimes with additional treatment, sometimes without.
Furthermore, only 12% of the 35 billion empty water bottles discarded in the US each year are recycled. The rest usually ends up in landfills and water bodies, possibly causing tremendous damage to wildlife, air quality, oceans, and water quality (via microplastics). Before you crack open a bottle searching for clean water, check out these seven reasons to choose filtered tap water over bottled water.
How can I tell if my home has poor water quality?
Whether or not your state is on the list, you must check your water to see if it’s contaminated. That way, you can detect potential pollutants early on and enforce strict measures to prevent them from popping up in your water again.
Here are a few ways to determine your water quality:
· Ask your water provider
Before testing your water at home, contact your local water provider. Ask them for a copy of their latest water quality report. This report usually contains detailed information, such as the specific tests done on the water in your area, the date they were performed, and the test results. The test results typically include the levels of common contaminants possibly detected in the water. Contacting your water provider is a smart move. Even if you wish to conduct further tests, it’s good to have an idea of what contaminants are possibly present in the water.
· Send samples for testing
For more thorough testing and accurate results, send a water sample from your tap to a certified water-testing laboratory in your area. There, experts can conduct a series of professional tests on your water sample, looking closely for hard-to-detect chemicals, such as PFCs. They will also examine the amounts of chlorine, lead, bacteria, pesticides, and VOCs, possibly in your water, and pH levels. Plus, if you have specific contaminants you want to test for, they’ll test for them at your request and provide you with a thorough report on your water quality.
· Test your water at home
If you are the DIY type, a home water testing kit might be ideal for you. While these kits are less accurate than professional laboratory testing, they can provide vital information about your water quality.
You can purchase kits from various merchants, online or locally, but most of them operate similarly. Take a test strip, expose it to the water you want to test, and note the color the strip turns. The kit will come with a color chart matching different tones to different chemicals.
Test your water at least twice to ensure the results are consistent. If any chemical is detected at hazardous concentrations, contact your local water provider immediately.
What to do if you live in a state with poor tap water
Here’s some good news: If you live in a state with poor tap water, investing in a high-quality water filtration system can significantly improve your water quality and ease your frustration. And don’t even think about buying bottled water as an alternative. In our article, 7 Reasons to Choose Filtered Tap Water Over Bottled Water, we list and explore several incredible benefits of using filtered tap water over bottled water.
Filtering your tap water at home can remove dangerous contaminants, protecting you and your family’s health and extending the lifespan of your water-using appliances, pipes, fixtures, and plumbing system. If you wish to filter your water, we suggest you start by looking over a water quality report from your local municipality. Interpreting your city’s water report can be tricky for some people, but thankfully, we’ve simplified it in this article.
You can also use the test results from the lab or your home testing kit to get a better idea of the contaminants possibly present in your water. Once you know what contaminants are found in your drinking water, you can use this helpful guide to help you choose a water filter for your specific needs and budget.
If you want to filter the water at every faucet in your home, consider installing a whole-house water system, like the Springwell CF1 Whole House Water Filter. However, if you only need filtered water at a specific tap, an under-sink filter, such as the Springwell SWRO reverse osmosis system, can be an easy and quick option to get safe, clean, healthy water.
We must also note that even if your state has the cleanest and safest tap water in America, unseen, toxic contaminants may still linger in the water. To learn more about Springwell’s unique, reliable, and affordable filtration systems and how they can help improve the safety and taste of your drinking water, feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns.
Americans are said to get some of the safest and cleanest tap water worldwide. Still, millions of residents across different states are exposed to unsafe water every year. Whether or not you live in a state with unclean water (such as those on this list), it’s still important to test your water for possible contaminants and install a quality water filter if necessary. Springwell offers an impressive line of robust, reliable, and budget-friendly water filtration systems to eliminate harmful contaminants from your water supply, so you can your family can enjoy clean, healthy, contaminant-free water.