Cities with the Cleanest and Worst Water in the U.S.

See the top Six U.S. cities with the cleanest water, along with the worst Five. Plus, get tips for improving the quality of your tap water at home.

By: Rachel Carollo

With the onset of work from home in recent years, many Americans have been taking stock of their lives and making big moves to new cities, new lives, and new adventures. But as many of us painstakingly research which cities have the best schools, public transportation, recreation, or nightlife scene, there’s another major consideration to take into account. And that’s a city’s water quality. 

For the most part, water within the United States is safe to drink. In fact, it’s regulated to be safe. The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) was passed in 1970 to regulate public water systems in the U.S. and ensure that we have safe drinking water. Across the country, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets limits on over 90 contaminants in our public or municipal water. This includes both chemical and microbial contaminants.


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But that isn’t to say that all water across the U.S. is equal in quality. According to the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC’s) Importance of Water Quality and Testing, “Even though U.S. tap water supplies are considered to be among the safest in the world, water contamination can still occur,” and honestly, it isn’t that uncommon. Some of the sources of water contamination might include sewage, chemicals that occur naturally in bodies of water (for instance, arsenic), and even local land use practices (for instance, agriculture often uses a great deal of fertilizer and pest control which can cause runoff into local water sources). And of course, as natural disasters increase due to climate change, a whole other host of concerns come up, such as fires that cause erosion and contaminate water supplies.

Many things affect a city’s water quality. Ensuring it’s safe to drink depends in part on the strength of the local water treatment processes, but there’s more that goes into water quality than chlorine treatment. The source of a town’s water, the material it passes through on its way to citizens’ homes, and even the city’s pipes for delivering that water, all affect the water’s quality. 

So if you’re wondering about water quality ranking by city or just what cities have the cleanest water (and the worst), we’ve got some findings to share.

Towns and cities with the best drinking water

Suffice it to say we’d all like to live in a place with the best tap water, but it’s very possible we’re looking for it in the wrong places. Below, we’ve listed some municipalities that are considered to have impeccable water, and there are a lot of surprises and delights here. Some of this isn’t just on the local municipality, but is simply dependent on geography such as the natural materials that the water passes through on its way to treatment. While there’s no official water quality ranking by city, here’s a few of those with stronger cases to make about their water quality.

Memphis, Tennessee

Memphis might be well-known for its storied role in music as the location of Elvis Presley’s Graceland, but there’s a lesser-known accolade you can add to its list: Memphis has the “sweetest”-tasting municipal water. According to The Culture Trip, the water in Memphis has low levels of several minerals, including nitrate, copper, lead, and fluoride, meaning it has incredibly soft water. In fact, Memphis’ utility, Memphis Light, Gas, and Water boasts that the city water had no detectable lead in its source water at all. Largely, the lovely taste of Memphis water is thanks to the sand aquifer from which it comes. Filtering through the sand removes impurities from the water, and the water then sits between layers of clay.

Memphis, Tennessee
The source of a town’s water, the material it passes through on its way to citizens’ homes, and even the city’s pipes for delivering that water, all affect the water’s quality.

Macon, Georgia

In 2018, Macon, Georgia was chosen as having the best-tasting water in the U.S. and it’s racked up dozens of awards since its plant opened in 2000. Macon’s water comes from Javors Lucas Lake, where the water allows sediment to settle — a sort of natural filtration process — which certainly helps. But in addition to that, Macon Water Association (MWA) always puts the local water through a rigorous carbon filtration process which also helps to remove contaminants resulting in some of the best drinking water in the country.

Des Moines, Iowa

Des Moines’s tap water possesses the accolade of containing the lowest levels of bacteria and chlorine in the U.S., and much of that is thanks to the city’s tight control of municipal water treatment. The city’s water treatment facility also employs sensors in the water that detect nitrites. On top of it, the city is dedicated to transparency with residents, publishing daily metrics on the contaminant levels in the local water supply.

Eldorado, Colorado

While not exactly a city, Eldorado won first place in the 2022 Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting (BSIWT) rankings for best municipal tap water. The competition has been going since 1991, so BSIWT knows good-tasting water. First-time winner Eldorado wasn’t just crowned best in the U.S., but best in the world for its crisp, clear water. This year’s contest included waters pre-selected from 14 U.S. states, 11 foreign countries, and 10 provinces in Canada. The annual BSIWT ranks waters based on appearance, aroma, and taste, among other factors, like how clear the water is. 

Independence, Missouri

Independence took 3rd place in Berkeley’s 2022 competition, won it outright in 2021, and has placed highly in previous years as well. What makes the city’s tap water so good? It comes directly from an aquifer and the local government doesn’t need to add many chemicals to it for disinfection.

Berkeley Springs, West Virginia

Berkeley Springs, which hosts the Berkeley Springs Water Tasting contest, took 5th place in the Berkeley Springs competition. That might make the skeptics among us raise an eyebrow and wonder if the contest is rigged, but 2022 is actually the first time Berkeley Springs placed 5th. 

Known for its hot baths — which rich denizens flocked to for health as far back as the 1700s — Berkeley Springs not only boasts the annual competition, but also “the only outdoor monument to presidential bathing.” That is correct — there’s an actual monument dedicated to presidents bathing. George Washington once bathed there, and the moment is immortalized with a monument that still has a natural spring, from which residents still fill up water jugs.

Which towns and cities have the worst water quality?

It’s clear that not all cities in the U.S. have the cleanest water supplies. By now we all know the crisis that unfolded in Flint, Michigan in 2014 due to corroded lead pipes damaging the city’s water supply, but there are less-covered concerns in other cities as well. 

For instance, the Guardian conducted its own study of water testing across the U.S., finding 33 cities that used what the media outlet called “cheats” that could hide dangerous contaminant levels. Of these, the Guardian claims, “21 (cities) used the same water testing methods that prompted criminal charges against three government employees in Flint over their role in one of the worst public health disasters in US history,” which is hardly a ringing endorsement. So it’s equally important to avoid areas that aren’t exactly known for their clean water records. Below you’ll find some of the worst offenders.

Miami, Florida
If you don’t live in one of the cities with the best tap water, it’s still possible to take steps to ensure you’re drinking healthy, clean water at home.

Newark, New Jersey

In recent years, Newark has had drinking water with elevated lead levels (more than 15 parts per billion), and worse than that, Newark officials failed to notify families that their children had had elevated lead exposure. To make matters worse, testing also revealed higher levels of haloacetic acids (HAAs), which can lead to cancer, in Newark’s water.

Martin County, Kentucky

Martin County is no stranger to water issues, particularly after a coal sludge spill in 2000 sent 300 million tons of coal waste with heavy metals like arsenic and mercury into local waterways.

But as NPR reported in 2018, Martin County has faced infrastructure problems that cause water issues even in recent years. Residents often see brown water come out of their pipes and many won’t use it at all. In 2017 alone, the county saw 29 line breaks among the pipes carrying water from treatment plants to residents.

Compton, California

In 2018, the state of California took over water delivery in the city of Compton after residents had already spent years with brown, foul-smelling water. Among mismanagement of the local water board, the system was also a victim of aging infrastructure with pipes that deposited manganese into the water.

Rural Texas

The Texas Observer reported that half a million Texans live in areas near military sites have groundwater polluted with “forever chemicals,” which are compounds that take thousands of years to break down. The chemicals are a byproduct of a special foam that firefighters have used since 1970 to put out blazes at bases. These compounds, known as polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are known to cause cancer and infertility, among other things.

Miami, Florida

Forever chemicals don’t just haunt rural areas, though. Miami, Florida’s water had high concentrations of PFAS (57 parts per trillion) when tested by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). In fact, Miami’s levels were among the highest of all the cities that EWG tested. Though maybe it’s not fair to pick on Miami in particular here. The EPA recently lowered what they consider to be acceptable levels of PFAS in water and are now saying that almost any detectable level of PFAS in water are too much for human consumption, which adds many more cities to the list of PFAS danger zones.

What can you do about your city’s water quality

If you don’t live in one of the cities with the best tap water, it’s still possible to take steps to ensure you’re drinking healthy, clean water at home. Here’s a few of the steps you can take to reduce contaminants in your water.

Test your home’s water

One thing everyone has control over is simply testing the water in their home (or future home). Consumer Reports offers a convenient guide to testing your water at home.

Check the EPA’s local water rating

Another step you can take before moving locales (or even to see if maybe it’s time to finally do it) is to check the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) local water ratings. The EPA keeps track of water quality data across the country, offering it in searchable format and also provides downloads of compliance data.

Filter your water

Regardless of the city, town, or rural area you may live in, one option to promise you and your family safe drinking water is to filter it on your own. Aquasana offers the Clean Water Machine, which filters 78 different water contaminants including lead and PFAS, not to mention it’ll look stylish in your kitchen. 

For whole-house filtration, turn your sights toward the OptimH2O Whole House Filter. Keeping every faucet in your home pouring with crisp, clean water, the Whole House Filter filters chlorine, lead, PFOS and even more. It’s also IAPMO certified, meaning it’s been tested and proven to meet NSF standards.

Meanwhile the Rhino 1,000,000 Gallons with Salt-Free Water Conditioner add-on filters your home’s water for 10 years and up to one million gallons of water. It’ll tackle hard water, too, keeping your water free of contaminants no matter what city or town you choose to live in.