Which States Have the Best and Worst Tap Water?

Water is an essential part of our daily life. We've put together a list of the top 10 states in the U.S. with the best and worst public tap water.

By: Maggie Pace

Water is an essential part of our daily life. We drink it, cook with it, bathe in it, and we’re constantly being reminded about how much water we should drink to stay healthy and hydrated. And since the water crisis in Flint, Michigan gained national attention in 2015, the quality of our water has become a regular part of our news cycle, as well.

Though the affected areas tend to be low-income and rural locales, unsafe and poor-quality water is everywhere in the United States. If you’re curious if you live in a state with good or bad water, we’ve put together lists of the top 10 states in the U.S. with the best and worst public tap water. Don’t fret if you see your state on this list, we have plenty of filtration methods to clean your tap water.


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Water quality

For many Americans, the quality of your area’s tap water is something you’re just forced to live with. Some states and cities take pride in having delicious, clean tap water, while some, like Flint, are in the news for having very poor water quality. So, what classifies a state as having good water or bad water?

What makes a state have bad water?

A state can have poor water quality due to a number of different reasons. A main reason for unclean water is due to the pipes that carry the water. A leak in a pipe that carries water creates a vacuum, in which untreated water is sucked into the pipe with the treated water, according to an article from National Public Radio about Inez, Kentucky’s water. This water then flows through people’s homes and faucets. Old pipes can also leak lead into the water, bringing the harmful chemical to your glass.

A main reason for unclean water is due to the pipes that carry the water. A leak in a pipe that carries water creates a vacuum, in which untreated water is sucked into the pipe with the treated water…”

Additionally, states that receive large amounts of rainfall also experience problems due to runoff, as this runoff can pick up harmful substances from roofs, streets, and parking lots and carry them through the cleaning stations. Another common cause of poor-quality tap water is the runoff from process manufacturing plants or agriculture. Examples of this can include runoff from a coal mining plant or auto-industry leaking into the state’s rivers. These are often very water soluble substances, making them hard to remove from water in the purification process. To make tap water smell and taste better, chlorine may be added. But no one wants their tap water tasting like pool water.

Who is responsible for monitoring the tap water?

In 1974, Congress passed the Safe Drinking Law (SDWA) which provides power to each state to set a standard for tap water quality as long as it meets the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s guidelines. The EPA standards include contaminant limits, water-test scheduling, and methods that each state’s water systems must follow. Within each state, local water suppliers run testing related toSDWA once a year. After tests are run, all community water suppliers are required to provide the report (Often referred to as a Water Quality Report) to all residents.

Before we dive into the specific states with the best and worst drinking water, here are some common contaminants found in drinking water in the USA. We broke them down into what the contaminant is and the dangers it presents, the EPA’s acceptable limits, and some tools to help discover if your area has tested for higher than acceptable levels for some of the more common contaminants.

Chromium 6- a known carcinogen, according to a study by the National Institute for Biotechnology Information “Any amount of Cr(VI) entering cells has the potential to initiate tumor formation. Therefore, Cr levels in drinking water must be set at levels that protect the entire population.”

  • Acceptable level set by EPA- 0.1 milligrams per liter (mg/l) or 100 parts per billion (ppb) for total chromium. This includes all forms of chromium, including chromium-6.
  • Check out this interactive map by the Environmental Work Group.

PFAS(polyfluoroalkyl substances)- PFAS are man made chemicals that can last for years in your body. Because it takes them so long to leave your system they can accumulate in your system causing problems including hormonal disruptions and links to increased cancer rates.

  • Acceptable level set by EPA- “To provide Americans, including the most sensitive populations, with a margin of protection from a lifetime of exposure to PFOA and PFOS from drinking water, EPA has established the health advisory levels at 70 parts per trillion.”
  • Check out this interactive map by the Environmental Work Group.

States with the best tap water in the U.S.

While some states settle for water that meets the minimum requirement of being drinkable, the best tap water in the U.S. comes from these states that often go the extra mile with stricter drinking water testing and standards.

  1. Rhode Island:Because the small state of Rhode Island enjoys an abundance of water resources, the state carefully monitors all bodies of water. According to the Office of Water Resources, over 90% of the state’s groundwater is considered suitable for drinking. The Office of Water Resources controls wastewater discharges, prevents groundwater pollution, and more.
  2. South Dakota: South Dakota water systems pride themselves on having a superb track record, meeting the EPA goal of having 95% of water users in the state meeting all health standards related to tap water. Additionally, Mid-Dakota has received the Secretary’s Award for Drinking Water Excellence for 16 consecutive years providing safe water without a violation.
  3. Minnesota: The Minnesota Department of Health focuses on the public water suppliers by protecting through grants, coordinating training for water operators, and more. Duluth, Minnesota won the 2013 “Best in Glass” drinking water taste test which included three other Minnesota cities in the running.
  4. New Hampshire: New Hampshire has one of the nation’s strictest drinking water standards. In 2019, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services proposed new testing for contaminants such as PFAS – the harmful contaminant found in non-stick cookware.
  5. Connecticut: The state of Connecticut has very high-quality tap water as it is only one of the two states that prohibit discharges from wastewater treatment plants within public water supply watersheds. Meaning, the public water has very little exposure to pharmaceuticals and other harmful contaminants.
  6. Vermont: In Vermont, about 70% of residents get their drinking water from public systems that are closely monitored for contamination. Out of the 70%, 97% are satisfied with their drinking water.
  7. Kansas: About 96% of Kansans receive water from public water supplies that meet or exceed all state and federal regulations for clean water, according to Mike Tate, Director of the Bureau of Water for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Emporia, Kansas is known for having clean, great-tasting water as it won the Best Tap Water prize at the 23rd annual Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting.
  8. Missouri: Missouri has some of the best drinking water not just in the U.S., but in the world. In fact, the city of Independence has been named among the top five best-tasting tap waters in the world seven times in eight years at the Berkeley Spring International Water Testing Competition.
  9. Oregon: Oregon’s water supply has tested incredibly clean as the majority of Portland’s water flows from the pristine Bull Run Watershed. Test results on the watershed’s two reservoirs show very low levels of naturally occurring contaminants like giardia and bacteria.
  10. Massachusetts: According to the MassDEP Drinking Water Program, Massachusetts has some of the highest quality drinking water in the country and some of the strictest standards. Watersheds in the state are protected by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, which ensures that all forests in the area are protected as well. These forests naturally clean the water so that by the time it gets to the city, the water requires minimal filtering.  

States with the worst tap water in the U.S.

These states may feature scenery and some of the nation’s most thriving cities, but residents and anyone considering becoming one should be aware that they also happen to have the worst tap water in the U.S.

  1. Arizona: Not only is water scarce In Arizona, but a recent study shows that Phoenix tap water has the highest average levels of chromium-6 as well as PFAS (polyfluoroalkyl substances) . According to this report by the NRDC, “When examining slow or inadequate enforcement actions, we identified 437 counties across the country with the longest average length of time out of compliance per system and the highest racial, ethnic, and language vulnerability. These counties were predominantly in the southwest, including nearly every county in Arizona.” Arizona has been so far out of compliance for drinking water standards this study specifically calls them out for their poor drinking water quality.
  2. California: Most of the state’s poor quality of drinking water comes from the rural areas. Many of the farming communities in California are drinking from arsenic and uranium-contaminated water systems. California also has a problem with nitrates in their water system due to the vast amount of agriculture that occurs in the state. These nitratest can increase instances of cancers, and in children under 6 months old can cause methemoglobinemia (blue baby syndrome) according to the MN department of health. Methemoglobinemia can result in other symptoms such as decreased blood pressure, increased heart rate, headaches, stomach cramps, and vomiting.
  3. Ohio: Because Ohio is one of the nation’s largest industrial centers, the water in the state suffers, resulting in high levels of lead found in the tap water. Combined with poor mining practices and old pipes, many residents in Ohio are served contaminated water. Lead is one of the largest problems associated with Ohio, but they also have issues with sulfates and iron.
  4. Washington: Washington has problems with runoff from constant rain affecting their water quality, and a growing population leads to many issues with their water system. Outside of Seattle’s city limits, residents of Washington’s water look a little different. Chromium, chloroform, arsenic, uranium, nitrate, radon, and radium are a handful of contaminants in the state’s water.
  5. Puerto Rico: Natural disasters are also a major contributor to unclean water. After Hurricane Irma and Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017, the island has been suffering from water that is filled with sediment. Often getting put on boil water notices, there are times Puerto Ricans don't have access to clean and easily drinkable water due to infrastructure problems.
  6. Georgia: Due to polluted rivers, streams, and wells in Georgia, the state’s water quality is very poor. These contaminants include chromium, arsenic, chloroform, radium, bromate, chlorate, and radium all reported well legal guidelines. This leads to some of the worst water in the US, with high levels of multiple contaminants in their system.
  7. New Jersey: High levels of PFAS are present in New Jersey’s water system. This synthetic, toxic chemical used for New Jersey’s industrial centers has lingered in the water for many years. This chemical, used for grease, water, and heat-resistant properties, is being phased out of production but remains in the state’s tap water today. Thankfully, it does look as though New Jersey is cracking down on their PFOA problem. According to this article, if water exceeds the new standards of 14 parts per trillion for PFOA and 13 parts per trillion for PFOS New Jersey utility operators have to install treatment systems or take their wells offline. Hopefully soon New Jersey will not be on the list of worst tap water in the United States.
  8. Pennsylvania: For many years, Pennsylvania's economy relied on coal mining, which led to pollution. According to a recent study, 20,000 miles of streams in the state do not meet federal standards for fishing and swimming. In addition to contaminated streams, many abandoned gas and oil wells are attributed to leaking contaminants into the groundwater.
  9. Florida: Florida’s tap is so bad because of the two ecological emergencies the state experienced in 2018. During the summer of 2018, red tide microorganisms flooded into the Gulf of Mexico, and toxic blue-green algae flowed into rivers, lakes, and oceans. Additionally, the state experiences high levels of fertilizer and other pollutants due to the freshwater algae blooms. Natural disasters often affect Florida’s water as hurricanes and storms result in flooding, which in turn affect the water systems. Florida also has infrastructure issues that lead to the state having worse tap water when compared to most states. According to the Southern Regional Water Program, Florida’s “unique hydrogeologic features of a thin soil layer, high water table, porous limestone and large quantities of rainfall coupled with rapid population growth, result in a groundwater resource extremely vulnerable to contamination.”
  10. Texas: The most affected areas of Texas are the rural areas, making up over 15% of the large state. Because resources are scarce, and pipes are often old in these smaller towns, lead, radiation, and arsenic can be found in public water. Texas has also had issues with boil water notices during their “Snowpocalypse” of 2021. With the failure of their power grid, many water treatment plants were out of commission causing large swaths of Texas to be issued a boil water notice.

If you live in a state that has bad tap water

If you live in one of the states that made the “Worst Tap Water in the U.S.” list, there’s no need to pack your bags. While there are alternatives to drinking tap water, we highly recommend investing in a water filtration system. If you think bottled water is a good alternative to dirty tap water, we’ve compiled a list of disadvantages against the wasteful and expensive product in our article, Bottled Water vs. Filtered Water.   Filtering your tap water at home can remove harmful contaminants, helping your health in the long run. If you’re interested in filtering your home’s water, but not sure where to start, we recommend starting with looking over a water quality report from your local municipality. Interpreting your city’s water report is simple, with the help of this article. Once you know what contaminants are found in your drinking water, you can better choose a water filter with our helpful guide. If you’re wanting to filter the water in your home from every faucet, you would need to consider a whole house water filter. Or, if you’re only concerned about the water you drink, under sink and countertop filters can be an easy and quick option to get clean, healthy water.

Even if your state appears to have some of the cleanest water in the U.S., there’s still a chance unseen, harmful contaminants can be in the water. To learn more about Aqusana’s water filters and how they can help improve the safety and taste of your tap water, contact our Customer Service Team.