Is Florida’s Tap Water Safe to Drink?
Table of Contents
Whether moving to Florida or planning your dream vacation to the Sunshine State, it offers something special for everyone. But like many residents and travelers, you may be concerned about the safety of its tap water, given the water quality issues after Hurricane Ian.
While Florida has an enviable reputation for warm weather, beautiful beaches, and delicious seafood, it is also notorious for poor-quality tap water, ranking among the worst nationwide. The state’s waters have long been fouled by polluted stormwater and harmful algal blooms caused by fertilizer runoff, often exposing residents to potentially dangerous contaminants.
So, before you pack your bags for the Sunshine State, you might want to stick around as we explain everything you need to know about the state’s tap water, including where it comes from, why it is prone to contamination, and if it’s safe to drink. And because we want you to hydrate all day during your stay, we’ll also outline ways to determine if your water supply is contaminated and how to eliminate or reduce any pollutants detected.
Where Does Florida’s Tap Water Come From?
More than 90 percent of the potable water in Florida comes from underground aquifers – giant, underground rocks made of porous limestone that contain a large amount of fresh water. The remaining percentage comes from surface water sources, such as lakes and rivers, and is treated at water treatment facilities before reaching homes and businesses.
Florida’s aquifers supply more than 8 billion gallons of water daily and are among the most productive worldwide. In 2015, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimated the state-wide groundwater use to be approximately 3.8 billion gallons per day. In 2021, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) estimated its groundwater use to be around 1.65 billion gallons per day (60% of the total water used), with approximately 70% used for domestic purposes and most of the remainder used for agriculture and landscape irrigation.
Why is Tap Water in Florida So Prone to Contamination?
If you search the phrase “tap water contamination in Florida,” you’ll be greeted with numerous reports of issues across the state. But why is Florida’s tap water so susceptible to contamination issues?
As mentioned earlier, Florida gets most of its potable water from underground aquifers. Primarily, water sourced from aquifers is contaminant-free and has no physical impurities (thanks to the natural filtration process it undergoes while traveling through the ground). But despite being naturally filtered, groundwater is easily contaminated with harmful natural and human-induced chemicals and pollutants.
The high risk of groundwater contamination in Florida is usually the result of a thin soil layer, high water table, rapid increase in population, porous limestone, and heavy rainfall from hurricanes and storms. The risk is even higher since many of the state’s aquifers are shallow.
High Population Density
Florida’s high population density and rapid development also contribute to the state’s growing water woes. Beneath Florida is an 80,000-mile, multi-state aquifer with billions of water. Replenishing this massive aquifer was rarely an issue in the nation’s fifth rainiest state as long as the weather and demographics remained stable.
But population growth of 300,000-plus annually is taking a toll on the water supply. Drought has had an impact, but the over-extraction is to blame for the draining aquifers and natural springs that serve many public water systems.
Florida is facing a water crisis with the destruction of wetlands for more housing and pollution through pollutants discharged from industrial operations and urban runoff.
Industrial and Domestic Discharges
As groundwater flows underground, metals such as iron and manganese in rock and soil are dissolved and may later be found in high concentrations in the water. Industrial discharges, urban activities, groundwater pumpage, agriculture, and improper disposal of toxic waste can also affect groundwater quality.
Chemicals have gotten into the state’s groundwater because of leaking gasoline storage tanks, chemical spills, landfills, improper disposal of toxic wastes, and ignorance or disregard for our water resources.
Another source of runoff pollution is agriculture. The spreading of excess fertilizer and manure leads to nitrogen and phosphorus being washed into streams and rivers, feeding algal blooms and releasing dangerous chemicals into the water. On top of that, bacteria can get into drinking water through poorly maintained septic systems, livestock areas, or poorly constructed wells.
High Number of Private Wells
Florida’s water contamination issue also has much to do with many Florida residents getting water from private wells. According to Florida Health, about 80% of residents are served by public water systems covered by the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). The other 20% receive their water from the smaller, more limited-use public or private water systems.
Typically, private well owners are solely responsible for the safety of their water, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other federal bodies do not regulate private wells. As a result, private wells may not be tested as regularly as public water systems, and people who own private well may not have the financial resources to test and treat their water supply, increasing the risk of contamination.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Florida’s warm climate can provide conditions that allow harmful algal blooms (HABs) to grow in the water. This includes “red tide” in salt water and cyanobacteria in freshwater. When these blooms grow too big, they can make people and animals sick and harm the environment, tourism, and the economy.”
Elevated nutrient levels and algal blooms can also cause drinking water problems in nearby communities and upstream from dead zones. Harmful algal blooms release toxins that contaminate drinking water, causing illnesses in animals and humans
So, Is Florida’s Tap Water Safe to Drink?
The EPA regulates contaminants in public water supplies under the SDWA. And from their analysis, Florida’s tap water is safe to drink because it meets federal drinking water standards.
However, water quality watchdogs like the Environmental Working Group (EWG) disagree (see their findings). The EWG believes legal doesn’t necessarily mean safe because contaminant limits haven’t been updated to reflect health guidelines in more than two decades.
The EPA doesn’t entirely disagree. It’s created enforceable limits and non-enforceable guidelines for some substances to give communities more time to address critical infrastructure issues. But lack of funding for clean water initiatives remains an ever-present barrier. That means, despite efforts by community and public water systems in Florida to provide more sanitary, healthier water, some contaminants are still found in most water utilities across the state.
According to the EWG, a drinking water quality report for Florida provided by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) shows that Florida residents have been exposed to unhealthy concentrations of the following contaminants:
Total trihalomethanes (TTHMs)
Total Trihalomethanes (TTHMs) are a group of cancer-causing chemicals formed when chlorine reacts with other disinfectants or naturally occurring dissolved organic matter in water. Lifelong exposure to TTHMs is associated with bladder and skin cancer, stillbirths, congenital disabilities, and an increased risk of kidney and liver cancer. It can also harm fetal growth and development.
The EPA’s maximum contaminant level (MCL) for TTHMs in drinking water is 80 ppb, way more than the 0.15 ppb the EWG recommends. Perhaps even more shocking, an EWG report shows that under 1500 Florida water systems serving around 20 million residents contained TTHMs levels higher than the 0.15 ppb health guideline.
Haloacetic acids (HAA5)
Like trihalomethanes, haloacetic acids (HAA5) are a group of disinfection byproducts produced when chlorine reacts with naturally occurring materials in water. When people consume haloacetic acids at high levels over many years, they increase their risk of developing bladder cancer.
Other health effects of haloacetic acids include rectal and colon cancer and adverse developmental and reproductive effects during pregnancy. They have been studied with mixed results; however, the weight of evidence of the health effects data suggests a potential association. HAA5 may also cause skin loss and inflammation and damage to the structural protein collagen in the skin’s connective tissues.
Hexavalent Chromium (Chromium-6)
Hexavalent chromium, aka chromium-6, is primarily an industrial pollutant used in wood preservation and anti-corrosion metal coatings but also occurs naturally in the environment, specifically in rocks, plants, soil, etc. Pollution can arise when industrial sites improperly dispose of waste materials, causing the chemical to seep into groundwater and surface water.
Even in small amounts, chromium-6 can cause various health complications. In 2008, the National Toxicology Program, or NTP, found a significant increase in stomach and intestinal tumors in rats and mice exposed to chromium-6.
In 2015, California scientists reported an increased risk of stomach cancer in workers exposed to chromium-6. A toxicological review by the EPA concluded that ingesting chromium-6 could lead to oral ulcers, diarrhea, abdominal pain, indigestion, vomiting, leukocytosis, and the presence of immature neutrophils.
Chronic exposure to chromium-6 in drinking water can also damage the liver and reproductive systems, lower body weight, and delay the skeletal development of lab animals’ offspring exposed to the chemical.
EPA has a drinking water standard of 0.1 milligrams per liter (mg/l) or 100 parts per billion (ppb) for total chromium, including all chromium forms, including chromium-6. However, at least 300 Florida water systems don’t make the grade, exposing over 15 million Floridians to dangerous concentrations.
Arsenic is a highly toxic chemical that naturally occurs in rocks and soil. It is a byproduct of coal burning, copper smelting, and mining. According to the EPA, arsenic can make its way into water supplies from the natural erosion of rocks.
High levels of arsenic in private wells may come from arsenic-containing fertilizers used in the past or due to industrial waste. So, since most of Florida’s tap water comes from groundwater, arsenic from the surrounding rocks can make its way into the water.
The health effects of arsenic include nausea, diarrhea, neurological impairments, heart dysrhythmias, muscle weakness, anemia, and more. The EPA’s MCL for arsenic is ten ppb, but the latest research shows that no level is safe to drink. At least 10 million Florida residents have ingested higher-than-recommended concentrations from more than 600 water systems.
Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS)
Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, or PFOS for short, is a water and stain-resistant synthetic compound widely used to make carpets, fire-fighting foams, paper packaging for food, and other materials resistant to water, grease, or stains.
PFOS chemicals are difficult to break down, so they can continue to exist in the environment and drinking water sources for decades. Exposure to PFOS over certain levels can result in adverse health effects, including congenital disabilities, cancers, liver effects, and more.
PFOS in drinking water is a nationwide problem, affecting at least 97% of Americans. While cleanup is underway, it’s moving at snail’s speed. Higher-than-average levels of PFOS/PFOA were found in more than 20 of Florida’s public water systems.
Like arsenic, high nitrate levels in drinking water can be dangerous to health, especially for infants and pregnant women. The chemical occurs naturally in soil and air but is also found in many fertilizers used on yards, golf courses, and in agricultural production. Because of its widescale use in farming, the chemical is wreaking havoc on the drinking water quality in many parts of America, mainly in agricultural areas.
Nitrate mainly enters the water supply through agricultural and urban runoff, discharges from wastewater treatment plans, and septic systems. Approximately half of all applied nitrogen drains from farms contaminate surface water and groundwater. Hence, nitrate concentrations in our water systems have also increased significantly and are expected to continue.
High nitrate levels in drinking water have been linked to colon, kidney, ovarian, and bladder cancers. Researchers from the EWG say the chemical is responsible for 12,600 cancer cases a year. Of course, the risk varies from region to region, but many small farming communities have the highest nitrate levels in the water, thus the highest risk.
The EPA suggests a nitrate limit in drinking water at 10 mg/L. However, the EWG has defined health guidance for the chemical at five mg/L based on studies by scientists at the National Cancer Institute and other independent researchers. These health guidelines are believed to protect against cancer and other health hazards. Yet, over 7 million Floridians received tap water with nitrate levels above health guidelines.
Why Does Florida’s Tap Water Usually Taste and Smell Funny?
Like most major cities, public water supplies in the metropolitan areas of Florida can look, taste, and smell differently due to various factors. It’s generally not the dangerous toxins that cause the taste and smell complaints but rather the water source, the state’s geology, hard water, chlorine, organic matter, etc.
- Water Source: Florida gets its water from underground aquifers, lakes, and rivers, and the mineral content in these sources can vary. Groundwater can taste differently due to various factors, such as the minerals from the soil and rock as the water moves through the ground, bacteria or other microorganisms, and dissolved gases like sulfur. Some Floridians report a slight sulfur or earthy taste due to naturally occurring sulfur compounds in some of Florida’s underground water sources.
- Geology: Florida is flat, with very few peaks and valleys acting as physical barriers against contaminants. Its water sources are usually interconnected, so what impacts one affects all of them. Typically, wells and surface water sources are low in elevation, making them more prone to seawater intrusions that give drinking water a salty taste. Additionally, tannins produced by decaying vegetation in swampy areas turn southern Florida tap water yellow. Safe to drink, perhaps, but high concentrations of tannins and other elements are enough to cause a musty smell and an “off” flavor. (Learn more: Tannins in Florida Waterways and How to Remove Them from Your Drinking Water)
- Hard water: Florida’s tap water can contain high levels of minerals such as calcium and magnesium, which can cause it to have a distinctive taste and can leave behind mineral buildup on fixtures and appliances. While hard water is not a health risk and is safe to drink, the mineral buildup and the taste of the water can be a nuisance. Consider installing a water softener in your home to remove the “hardness” minerals from the water, making it “soft.”
- Chlorine: Florida’s water treatment facilities chlorinate the water supply to kill bacteria and other harmful microorganisms. However, chlorine can give the water a distinct chemical-like taste and smell. (Learn more: Chlorine in Drinking Water: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly)
- Algae and other organic matter: Florida’s warm climate and many bodies of water can lead to an overgrowth of algae, giving the water a musty or earthy taste and smell. Additionally, Florida’s water is sourced from underground aquifers, containing dissolved organic matter that can cause the water to have a funny flavor and odor.
Tap Water Quality by Region in Florida
The FDEP is responsible for managing the quality and quantity of the state’s water with the help of five water management districts. However, the drinking water quality in four regions across the state reflects what you can expect as a guest or long-term resident (See EWG database).
The Miami-Dade Water Authority provides water for more than 2.3 million people and is among the nation’s largest water utility companies. Yet, testing revealed that eight of the 24 contaminants detected in its water supply are above healthy limits:
- PFOS / PFOA
- Haloacetic acids (2 of 5)
- Total Trihalomethanes
Well water in the Miami area comes from porous limestone. That means it likely contains a large amount of sulfur and tannins. While considered safe to drink, Miami’s tap water may have a yellow tinge and a rotten egg odor.
Learn more: Why Does My Water Have A Sulfur Smell?
The Palm Beach County Water Authority treats water for nearly 600,000 residents. Testing isolated 24 contaminants, but only five exceeded EWG guidelines:
- Haloacetic acids (2 of 5)
- Total trihalomethanes
The Palm Beach area also has hard water — among the state’s worst at 19 grains per gallon. While not toxic, water with high mineral content often tastes metallic or bitter. It can also cause limescale buildup in your plumbing system, damaging pipes and reducing appliance efficiency.
Tampa Bay Water (TBW), Tampa’s local water supply company, serves three million residents, including those in the Hillsborough, Pasco, and Pinellas counties. Tampa’s drinking water comes from various sources, including the Hillsborough River, the Tampa Bypass Canal, and wells in the Floridan Aquifer.
Testing identified 18 contaminants. However, water testers discovered only six in concentrations above EWG recommendations:
- Total Trihalomethanes
- Haloacetic acids (2 of 5)
Tampa’s tap water is safe to drink by EPA standards. But arsenic levels are significantly higher than in the Jacksonville area and require filtration, especially if you are pregnant or have kids.
Jacksonville is served by the local water utility company JEA. According to JEA’s website, they test their water supply regularly and comply with all state and federal regulations for safe drinking water. The water is sourced from the Floridan Aquifer, a wide-ranging underground water supply stretching across Florida and other southeastern states.
Samples tested in 2021 complied with federal water quality standards, but levels of five contaminants were above the EWG’s health guidelines:
- Haloacetic acids (2 of 5)
- Total Trihalomethanes
Arsenic concentrations were well below the national average but above the 0.004 ppb health standard adopted by California.
Is My Tap Water Safe to Drink?
No matter where you live – whether in Florida or another state – there’s a chance that your tap water contains harmful impurities and contaminants, making it unsafe to ingest. There are a few ways to determine if tap water is contaminated:
- Check the EWG’s Tap Water Database: The Environmental Working Group maintains a database of information about public water systems, including test results for contaminants. You can search for water systems by name or zip code to find information about your tap water. While the EWG does an incredible job at testing and providing vital regional water quality information, it only gives an overview, not the findings in specific communities.
- Check with your local water utility: Most water utilities must provide customers with an annual water quality report containing information about the water’s source, treatment, and any contaminants found during testing. If you drink city water, contact your local water utility to request a copy of their latest CCR or to find out where you can access it. Is it enough? Probably not. Testing only measures the contaminant levels before the water leaves the treatment plant, not when it reaches your tap. Ultimately, the only way to know whether tap water is safe is to test it. The process is quick and easy.
- Test your water: If you have concerns about the safety of your tap water, you can have it tested by a certified lab. Several home water test kits are available for purchase, or you can contact a professional water testing service. We like water test kits from ETR Laboratories because they are simple to use, budget-friendly, and accurate. You can also choose from single tests or panels curated for well or city water. (Learn more: 10 Common Problems a Water Test Can Detect in Tap Water)
Cleaner, Better-Tasting Tap Water with Springwell
Filtering your water is vital in ensuring it is clean and safe to drink. Although federally regulated, public water sources may contain potentially dangerous contaminants, such as bacteria, viruses, and chemicals. By filtering your water, you can keep these and other pollutants at bay and better protect your health.
We at Springwell understand the importance of providing your family with clean, safe drinking water. That’s why we’ve developed a line of advanced water filtration systems designed to remove impurities and contaminants from your tap water.
For example, our whole house water filters use a multi-stage filtration process to effectively remove and reduce up to 99% of contaminants, including chemicals, heavy metals, and other contaminants and impurities. Our premium-quality water filters also help improve the taste and odor of your tap water. As a result, you’ll likely drink more water, which is essential for maintaining good health and hydration.
You’ll also appreciate the ease of installation and maintenance our water systems provide. They’re compatible with most standard faucets, and the filter cartridges are simple to replace, making it easy to maintain the filtration system. Our water filters are also environmentally friendly, reducing the need for single-use plastic bottles and helping to conserve our natural resources.
Invest in one of our high-quality water filtration systems today. Talk to one of our friendly experts if you want to learn more about our products or have any questions or concerns.
If you’re planning a trip to Florida or making it your forever home, you might be concerned about the safety of the water that will be flowing through your pipes and faucets. The good news is that while Florida ranks among states with the worst water quality, tap water in the Sunshine State is considered safe to drink.
The EPA and FDEP regulate the state’s water supply to ensure it meets federal and state standards for safe drinking water. These agencies regularly monitor and test public water systems to ensure that the water meets these standards.
However, as with any large state, local issues in certain areas may affect water quality. For example, some regions of Florida may have higher levels of naturally occurring contaminants, such as arsenic and haloacetic acids, to name a few. In some areas, heavy rains and floods may cause water treatment plants to release untreated or partially treated water into the system.
It’s crucial to stay informed about the water quality in your local area and contact your water utility or the FDEP if you have any concerns about the safety of your tap water. But most importantly, it’s always best to test your drinking water and invest in a water filtration system to ensure that water from your city’s treatment plant doesn’t expose you and your family to harmful pollutants picked up as it travels to your home.