Towns and Cities with the Best Tap Water in the U.S.
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Whether you’re contemplating a move to a major city or planning a short visit, it’s natural to be researching the best schools, food options, nightlife scenes, etc. But as you decide on the perfect place to call home or enjoy a memorable vacation, make sure also to consider its tap water quality.
Given America’s sophisticated water treatment systems and reasonably strict water quality standards, you’d think its tap water is safe to drink—and you’d be somewhat correct. However, this doesn’t guarantee the water will be pure and healthy wherever you go. While some towns have clean, potable water, others are constantly plagued with contamination issues, despite government oversight.
So, before packing your bags, take a moment to look into the water quality in the area you plan to visit. While it might seem like a small detail, it can make a big difference in your overall experience during your stay. Not sure where to begin? Keep reading to find out which towns and cities in America are renowned for having excellent tap water quality.
Which Cities in the U.S. Have the Cleanest Tap Water?
We’ve already highlighted the states with the best tap water in the U.S. Now, let’s explore which towns and cities have the cleanest, healthiest, and most refreshing tap water nationwide. Please note, however, that official water quality rankings are unavailable by city. Those below are a few with stronger cases for high-quality tap water based on their taste and odor profiles, water source, treatment processes, testing, etc.
1. Hamilton, Ohio
Hamilton has been awarded twice for having the world’s best-tasting tap water at the annual Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting (BSIWT) competition. The BSIWT has been ranking tap water by “appearance, aroma, taste, mouth feel, and aftertaste” since 1991, so they should know a lot about good-tasting water.
Most recently, Hamilton took third place in 2023 and second place in 2022 in the Best Purified Drinking Water category (see the rankings here). In 2022, the city won fifth place for the best municipal water. But what makes Hamilton’s water so delicious and refreshing?
For one, the city’s award-winning tap water comes from the Great Miami Valley Buried Aquifer, which produces some of the cleanest water in America. The aquifer is replenished by rainwater filtered through rock and soil. As the water travels underground, it picks up various minerals that give it a slightly sweet taste.
The city also boasts a cutting-edge treatment system. Since 1972, it has been using chlorine dioxide, which is supposed to help reduce taste and smell. Another benefit of chlorine dioxide is that it doesn’t react with organic elements in the water that produce carcinogens, such as trihalomethanes or haloacetic acids. As a result, the water is said to be consistently safe and pure. Municipal authorities also test the water regularly to ensure it fulfills all federal and state requirements.
2. Emporia, Kansas
Traveling to or living in Emporia doesn’t only mean treating yourself to premium-quality hamburgers and breweries and going to bike racing and disc golf tournaments. You’ll also enjoy some of the world’s best tap water.
Emporia has ranked fourth globally and second in America for the best municipal water in the 2023 BSIWT contest. In late August 2022, the city’s tap water was honored by the Kansas Water Environment Association and Kansas Section of the American Water Works Association for having the state’s best-tasting water.
According to Water Treatment Plant Manager Jack Mason, “The city [of Emporia] gets water from the Neosho River, not from nearby wells like other award winners. The city does an “immense process” to treat the water, starting with a pre-sedimentation treatment. The city also uses ozone to disinfect the water and remove any less-than-ideal taste. Every city and town needs unique chemical combinations to provide safe, good-tasting water for their residents, and Emporia continues tweaking its chemicals towards that end.”
3. Eldorado, Colorado
While not a city, Eldorado is known for its pristine spring water, winning the top prize for the Best Municipal Water in the 2019 BSIWT contest and earning fifth place in the same category in 2023. It’s no wonder the town’s spring water is bottled and sold all over the world.
Eldorado’s water comes from Eldorado Springs, a series of mineral springs flowing for over 10,000 years through the Rocky Mountains. The water is filtered as it percolates through layers of rock and soil, enhancing its flavor. According to the town’s 2022 Annual Water Quality Report, no violations for regulated contaminants occurred during that calendar year.
4. Independence, Missouri
Locals and visitors don’t usually have to think twice before drinking water in Independence, Missouri. The city has earned high rankings for its impeccable tap water quality in the BSIWT competition for several years.
Tap water in Independence comes from the Courtney Bend Aquifer, a protected watershed replenished by rainwater filtered through rock and soil. This process filters and purifies the water, so it’s already pretty clean. For this reason, the government doesn’t need to add too many chemicals to treat the water. The city’s latest water quality report shows that the water is softened and disinfected at the treatment plant and meets or exceeds all federal and state quality regulations.
5. Memphis, Tennessee
You probably know Memphis, Tennessee, for its killer BBQ, thriving blues music scene, and rich cultural history. But did you know it’s home to the sweetest water in the world? That’s according to Dr. Jerry L. Anderson, Director of the Ground Water Institute at the University of Memphis and a nationally known expert. Dr. Anderson believes this is “in part because of the presence of so few minerals that the water can be used with little treatment when it is withdrawn from underground.”
While all water contains at least small levels of contaminants, Memphis water has particularly low levels of fluoride, nitrate, lead, and copper. In fact, a Memphis Light Gas & Water 2015 Report noted, “There isn’t any detectable lead in Memphis’ source water.”
The water supply in Memphis comes from natural reservoirs hundreds of feet below the Earth’s surface. Most of the water lies in sand aquifers that sit between layers of clay. The sand acts as a filter, slowly removing impurities in the water. This natural filtration makes the water so pure that it only needs to be aerated to eliminate iron and dissolved gasses.
6. Louisville, Kentucky
When a city goes as far as to trademark its municipal tap water, it must be a strong sign of the water’s exceptional quality—or so we hope. Louisville Water, the water utility serving the city of Louisville, Kentucky, has branded its water as Pure Tap®, which has been recognized nationally for its outstanding quality, taste, and value.
The water undergoes more than 200 tests every day to ensure the water is safe and high-quality. Pure Tap® has earned the prestigious title of “Best Tasting Tap Water in America” on two separate occasions by the American Water Works Association. It has even surpassed bottled water in blind taste tests. Even more impressive, Louisville Water has achieved an unblemished record of zero water quality violations for a remarkable 16-year streak and counting.
7. St. Paris, Ohio
As a small village in Ohio, many would think St. Paris would be struggling with water quality issues. But surprisingly, they’ve got it on lock. Their water is so good that it was ranked number one in the entire U.S. and even snagged the third spot in the world for the best municipal water in the 2023 BSIWT competition.
But where does their top-notch water come from? St. Paris gets its water supply from a well field located on the southwest side of town. They’ve got a slick 3-million-dollar water plant built in 2018 to treat the water, ensuring it’s as clean and tasty as possible.
8. Des Moines, Iowa
Des Moines’ tap water contains some of the lowest levels of bacteria and chlorine in the U.S., thanks in part to the city’s rigid and well-controlled water filtration systems and the sensors they have set up in rivers to detect any potential issues like nitrites and other stuff that nobody wants in their water. Des Moines is also super transparent with locals about the water quality, updating its city website every few days with vital details and metrics. Hence, everyone knows what’s in the water flowing from their taps.
9. Macon, Georgia
When you turn on the tap in Macon, Georgia, expect to pour some of the America’s finest tap water. The Macon Water Authority (MWA) is recognized countrywide for the exceptional quality and taste of its water. They even took home a prestigious award in 2009 for having the Best Tasting Drinking Water in North America. On top of that, they won the “Best of the Best” Tap Water Taste Test by the American Water Works Association.
Gary McCoy, MWA Director of Water Treatment, reveals why their water tastes so darn good— the chemical and mechanical processes. They collect water from the Ocmulgee River and pump it into Javors Lucas Lake, and allow any impurities and chemicals to settle out. After that, they add various chemicals to disinfect the water.
But the real magic happens with their granular activated carbon filters. These systems can absorb three football fields’ worth of organic substances with just one grain of carbon. McCoy also added that the MWA creates great-tasting water by exceeding the expected number of quality tests. While they’re only required to conduct about 800 to 900 tests a month by law, they perform a whopping 9,000 monthly tests! Why? Because they care about their 160,000 residents and want to ensure they get the same top-quality water every single time.
Who Monitors Water Quality in U.S. Cities?
Various federal, state, and municipal agencies regulate and monitor America’s tap water. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the chief federal water quality watchdog. It sets standards and treatment guidelines for drinking water quality and oversees the states, localities, and water suppliers who implement those standards.
These treatment requirements include filtration and disinfectants such as chlorine or chloramine that remove or kill pathogens before they reach our taps. Additionally, each state has a separate environmental agency that partners with the EPA to verify that water quality within their borders is up to par.
While federal and state regulations set the broader framework, cities adopt various treatment measures and monitor water quality in their regions. Most municipalities have water treatment plants or collaborate with regional authorities to treat and purify the water before distributing it to homes and businesses. City officials also work alongside state and municipal health departments to conduct inspections and extensive water testing. If any issues arise, they must act swiftly to address them and maintain water safety.
And remember those pipes that carry water from the source to our homes? Cities are also in charge of maintaining and updating water distribution infrastructure. Adequately maintained pipelines are vital for preserving water quality, while old and broken ones might occasionally introduce unwanted materials into the water. The good thing is that some cities typically address these concerns and keep things running smoothly.
What Factors Affect Tap Water Safety in Cities in the United States?
Have you ever wondered why tap water in one city isn’t the same as in another? You can enjoy drinking clean and refreshing tap water in one area. Still, in another, the water is tainted with various hazardous chemicals, heavy metals, bacteria, and other pollutants. Several variables influence the quality of water that pours from our faucets, namely:
The Water Source: Tap water quality depends on its source, including surface sources like rivers, lakes, reservoirs, or groundwater stored beneath Earth’s surface in aquifers. Surface water is more susceptible to pollution from industrial discharges, agricultural runoff, and sewage, making it easier for contaminants like pesticides, fertilizers, bacteria, and microorganisms to enter and require extensive treatment. Groundwater, on the other hand, undergoes natural filtration and is enhanced by natural processes. However, human activities like improper waste disposal, leaking storage tanks, and industrial discharges can contaminate groundwater at a slower rate.
Natural Contaminants: In some regions, geological processes can introduce specific metals and minerals into the water. Take arsenic, for example. It’s an element that occurs naturally in some rocks. When water runs through these rocks, it dissolves some arsenic and brings it to the treatment facility. At high doses, this material may be damaging to our health.
Then we have radon, a radioactive gas that may dissolve in water from particular types of rocks and soil. Inhaling or swallowing radon-contaminated water can be harmful, especially when it escapes into the air during activities like cooking or showering. Fortunately, most cities usually control and monitor these naturally occurring pollutants.
Regulation and Testing: Drinking water regulations and testing are crucial in assuring high-quality tap water in U.S. cities. At the foundation of America’s federal water regulation regime is the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). The SDWA was passed in 1970 to regulate public water systems in the U.S. and ensure Americans have safe drinking water.
As part of the SDWA, the EPA has established legal limitations and treatment standards for over 90 contaminants in public drinking water. The SDWA also empowers individual states to develop and enforce drinking water standards, as long as they are at least as strict as the EPA’s national criteria.
The EPA also requires public water systems to produce and provide annual Consumer Confidence Reports (also known as Water Quality Reports) to educate customers on the quality of their drinking water. These reports offer vital information on the water source, detected pollutants, and compliance with SDWA requirements.
Water Treatment Processes: No matter where water comes from—whether underground, a river, or a natural spring flowing gracefully through the mountains—it can contain contaminants and toxins that must be removed before the water reaches our taps.
The water goes through multiple treatment processes to eliminate these unwanted elements. These treatment procedures often involve filtration and disinfection (typically with chlorine or chloramine). However, some cities also use additional treatments to target specific contaminants.
These processes ensure that when the water leaves the treatment plant, it’s safe and ready to be used and consumed.
Distribution System: When we turn on the tap, we rarely consider how the water gets to our homes. However, the water journeys through a complex system of pipes, valves, and other components called a water distribution system (WDS).
A proper-working WDS creates a clear route for the water to flow through and minimizes the risk of contamination. However, over time, pipes may corrode and leach lead, iron, and other heavy metals into the water. As they degrade, they may also develop leaks or fractures, exposing contaminants to the water supply.
Many cities have long considered this possibility and have worked carefully to address these concerns by performing regular repairs and replacements to maintain a safe and clean water flow. As for the others? Residents and visitors often report everything from discolored water and tiny rust particles in toilet bowls and tanks to stained laundry and water heater problems.
Climate Change and Natural Disasters: Many parts of the U.S. are experiencing many unusual occurrences, including hotter days, stronger storms, and strange temperature shifts. The likely suspect? Climate change.
These abnormal weather patterns can have far-reaching effects on water quality. Storms, heavy rainfall, floods, and other extreme weather events can overwhelm water treatment plants and introduce pollutants into the water supply. Similar occurrences have led to a nutrient contamination catastrophe in Wyoming.
During droughts, water sources dry up and become more prone to contamination. This often increases toxins and pollutants in some cities’ water supplies. Furthermore, natural disasters, such as hurricanes, wildfires, and earthquakes, can devastate water infrastructure, resulting in leaks and contamination and making it more challenging to supply pure tap water.
Human Activities and Pollution: Human activities, such as agriculture, industrial processes, and improper waste disposal, can lead to water pollution. These pollutants can find their way into water sources, potentially compromising water quality.
Is The Water in Your City Safe to Drink?
Whether or not you live in one of the towns or cities with the best tap water, you may still have to deal with water contamination issues at some point. Fortunately, there are precautions you can take to minimize the risk of drinking water containing potentially toxic contaminants:
Test your home’s water supply.
Conducting a water test is a reliable way to determine if any unwanted materials are lurking in your drinking water. Many water test kits are available for do-it-yourself testing, but the EPA recommends using a certified lab for more accurate testing and reporting.
For example, you can try the Water Test Kit + Tannins from ETR Laboratories. It’s designed to test for 53 essential contaminants and attributes, giving you a comprehensive overview of your water quality. Here’s how it works:
For instance, the Water Test Kit + Tannins kit from ETR Laboratories tests for 53 essential contaminants and attributes to provide a general overview of your water quality. Here’s how it works:
- The lab will send you the test kit, which includes everything you need to collect a water sample. Once you’ve collected the sample from your tap, mail it back to them.
- After the lab completes the test, they’ll provide an in-depth technical report. You’ll receive the results via fax or email, and they’ll also send a copy by mail for your records. The report will include recommendations on how to improve your water’s quality and remove any unwanted substances.
- Typically, you’ll get your test results within 2-4 business days from when the lab receives your samples.
Obtain a water quality report
If you are on municipal water and pay your own bill, the EPA requires public water suppliers to provide customers with a Consumer Confidence Report (CCR) or Water Quality Report. This document contains valuable information about your water quality. If you haven’t received your CCR, call your local water supplier. Renters have to contact their landlords to get a copy of the report.
Once you have the CCR, read the summary indicating whether any contaminants were found above government cutoff levels. If contaminants were detected, the report should outline the potential health risks associated with them, what actions are being taken to address the issue, and what steps you can take to ensure your safety. We’ve written this guide to help you better understand the report. But if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact your local water supplier directly or the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791.
So, what about those relying on well water? Unfortunately, they won’t receive a CCR. For this reason, you should get your water tested independently. This is especially important if your home was built before lead-free pipes were mandated in 1986. Even if your CCR states that the municipality’s water is free of lead, old pipes in your house can still leach lead into your water, posing potential health risks.
Check the EPA’s water rating or the EWG’s Tap Water Database.
The EPA tracks water quality data nationwide and offers searchable information and compliance data downloads to establish local ratings for each city or town. If that’s not enough, you can check the EWG’s Tap Water Database for valuable details about a city or state you are interested in based on its respective ZIP code. These details can include water utility information, the number of people served, data period, water source (groundwater or surface water), and the total contaminants found and how many exceed EWG health guidelines.
Filter your water
Once you know what’s in your water, consider installing a filter system that suits your needs and budget. Springwell offers the SWRO under-counter reverse osmosis filters, designed to remove a broad range of contaminants from your drinking water—all from under your kitchen sink. It eliminates pollutants, including heavy metals such as lead, copper, arsenic, iron, and aluminum and toxic chemicals like chlorine, PFAS, pesticides, herbicides, and more.
Our whole-house water filters are an excellent option if you want clean, healthy water flowing through your entire home. The CF1, in particular, eliminates chlorine, chloramine, PFOA, PFAS, PFOS, pesticides, herbicides, haloacetic acids, and more for up to a million gallons. They are easy to install and customizable with premium addons like a water softener to treat hard water and a UV Water Purification System to eliminate bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other microbes.
America is said to have some of the cleanest water in the world. But not everywhere you travel across the country will offer the same quality tap water. That’s why we suggest researching the water quality in the towns or cities you intend to travel to. This article highlighted several localities known for their exceptional water quality, like Hamilton, Ohio; Emporia, Kansas; and Eldorado, Colorado.
These urban centers have invested in everything from advanced treatment facilities to regular testing to provide award-winning and refreshing tap water to locals and visitors alike. Still, whether or not you choose to visit any of the places included in this article, we urge you to test your water and check the EPA’s local water ratings and the EWG’s Tap Water Database to stay informed about recent contamination issues. And if necessary, consider investing in a water filter so you and your loved ones can enjoy clean and healthy drinking water 24/7.