(and what’s contaminating it?)

Last updated: August 2020

Here’s a list of the currently available info on water quality for every US state, from sea to (perhaps not so) shining sea. We’ve looked at data from accredited water assessment bodies, general geographic information, and relevant recent local water news in each state to judge the overall quality of the tap water supply in each area of the country. But first, a couple of disclaimers:

How useful is it to judge water quality by each state?

Depending on their size and governance, states can have sprawling water systems with multiple suppliers and sources. Water networks are often separated into municipalities, which are further differentiated by public suppliers, private wells, and different types of source water (lakes vs reservoirs, vs groundwater, etc.) In other words, one state can be home to drastically different types of tap water, depending on the exact geography and infrastructure of a particular location.

That said, there are often general trends in state water quality—both over time and by area. For example, as the home of the country’s largest and most extensive treatment works, New York’s supply has long been considered excellent. Likewise, places with hard water-causing limestone bedrock won’t see it shifting anytime soon. And, major infrastructural changes to water supplies usually occur over years rather than months. So, think of this list as one useful resource that should form part of a wider look into water quality. We’d recommend you pair this information with any current updates by your state and local suppliers.

How accurate is this article?

We’ve compiled this list based on ranking data and information from the authorities responsible for ensuring water safety and monitoring contaminants. This includes the EPAs ECHO tool, EPA-mandated Consumer Confidence Reports, and state compliance summaries. We’ve also drawn information from media outlets and nonprofit organizations that use EPA and other data to undertake comprehensive assessments of nationwide water purity, such as U.S. News, the AWWA, and the EWG. Where available and deemed credible, we’ve included secondary and independent evaluations of water quality. For example, there may be a relevant local news report on water issues, a study by a local college, or other commonly voiced opinions on regional water quality. In all cases, we’ve traced claims to their primary sources and provided a list of references at the end of this article.

It’s important to recognize that water quality changes over time, sometimes drastically, in response to sudden environmental events such as flooding or industry spillage. As such, please use this resource as a general guide rather than the authority on state water. For an accurate picture of water purity at any specific time, always reach out to your local supplier.

Jump to a state:

Jump to the top 10 states with the WORST overall water quality:

(in alphabetical order)

Let’s go!

Alabama

AlabamaHow’s the tap water? Most metrics rate Alabama’s water as pretty good. Although around 50% of Alabamians use surface water1, which can be more susceptible to contaminants, this state ranks 2nd in the U.S. News assessment of drinking water quality. It also beats most states in terms of contaminants found in the larger utility suppliers.

However, the 2019 compliance report by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management found that 20% of private water systems were in violation of at least one contaminant safe level (about 15% below the national average).2 Of those violations, 10% were health-based, none considered serious. Last year, the Birmingham Water Works Board won an American Water Works Association’s prize for a five-year phase of excellence in water treatment.

Any alarming contaminants? In 2019, higher than recommended levels of Trihalomethanes (THM) were found in 489 of Alabama’s 512 large utilities. THMs are a group of cancer-causing contaminants that form when disinfectants such as chlorine react with decaying organic matter like dead leaves. This may be due in part to higher than average temperatures and large rural areas. However, Alabama still ranks a respectable 17th in state’s with THMs above health guidelines, according to EWG.

What’s the water hardness/softness? Mostly soft. Around the Tennessee basin, where bedrock is limestone, the water can be very hard. Aside from that, the state average water hardness level is 61 parts per million, which is considered moderately soft.3


Alaska

AlaskaHow’s the tap water? Alaska is home to 40% of the entire nation’s surface water, says the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation 4. And with so much of Alaska’s water network relying on private wells, data on water quality is scarce. Predictably, what has been tested is highly variable, from pristine glacial waters to heavily contaminated backcountry sources. As a result, the state sits dead last in the U.S. News survey, with drinking water violations of around ten times the national average (within the U.S. News metric).

Any alarming contaminants? According to EWG, around 615,598 Alaskan may be exposed to Radium through their drinking water. Radium is a radioactive element, which therefore makes it a cancer risk. It’s often found in higher amounts in those areas using a lot of groundwater (such as Alaska), but it can also leach into the water supply from fracking and other methods of oil extraction, which may present issues for those Alaskans living near refineries.

What’s the water hardness/softness? A whole-state USGS survey from 2003 found hardness concentrations of about 75% of total dissolved-solids in most private wells.5 Most Alaskan streams above tidal reaches also contain moderate amounts of calcium—a contributor to water hardness.


Arizona

ArizonaHow’s the tap water? A lack of rain complicates water treatment in Arizona, who’s water quality is mid-league by most evaluations. The state sits 33rd in the U.S. News table. However, violations in Arizona’s public water systems have been downward-trending for several consecutive years. Since 2014, the number of PWS with any violation has reduced by over 200, according to the EPA ECHO database. Though, at 809 violations (60 of which were considered serious) this number is still relatively high. In 2019, The EPCOR Arizona plant won the AWWA Five Year Director’s Award for Water Treatment.

Any alarming contaminants? Nitrates contaminate water in many of Arizona’s groundwater areas, found the above recommendations in 677 of 749 utilities tested. Though very common in areas with large agricultural presences, nitrates are still unwanted in drinking water, as high levels in the body can begin to elicit harmful reactions. According to a study by the University of Arizona, high nitrate presence in the state is often due to “porous soils and unconsolidated sedimentary geology,” which means that contaminants are able to more easily pass below the plant root layer and reach groundwater.6

What’s the water hardness/softness? Most soil in Arizona is mineral-rich, particularly in calcium and magnesium. This makes the state water very hard by relative standards. For example, the city of Mesa sees grains per gallon of up to 22, which is pretty much off the charts in terms of water hardness. Beating that, Bullhead City has recorded hardness levels of a whopping 36 grains per gallon.7


Arkansas

ArkansasHow’s the tap water? Home to Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas water is fittingly well-regarded. With an average of 2.76 U.S. News violation points per hundred-thousand residents (compared to the national average of 2.4), the state’s supply is consistent and low in contaminants. 414 of water systems tested in 2019 showed any contamination violations.

Any alarming contaminants? Trihalomethanes (THMs) and haloacetic acids are the most frequent contaminants in Arkansaw water. Both of these chemicals are produced when chlorine or other disinfectants react with organic matter in water.

What’s the water hardness/softness? With much of the drinking water in Arkansas coming from lakes, the water is very soft, with an average parts-per-million of 25 PPM. This makes it amongst the softest in the country.8


California

CaliforniaHow’s the tap water? With such varied geography and large population size, California is a complex picture when it comes to water quality. The famous Colorado River Aqueduct is still the major source of drinking water in southern California, while the Bay Area takes advantage of Yosemite’s idyllic Hetch Hetchy reservoir.9 Overall, the state water ranks above average, coming in 13th in the U.S. News survey. Several California treatment works were recognized by the AWWA in their 2019 excellence awards.

Any alarming contaminants? Frequently found contaminants in California water are the same as those found in many parts of the country: nitrates, THMs, and haloacetic acids. However, because so much of the state is reliant on imported or private well water, errors and accidents can cause widespread contamination, such as the recent well failure in Tulare County.10

What’s the water hardness/softness? Moderately hard—especially in Southern California, where cities such as Anaheim experience an average of 18 grains per gallon.11


Colorado

ColoradoHow’s the tap water? Despite its reputation for environmental conscientiousness, Colorado ranks 33rd on the U.S. News list of state water quality. This is due in part to large agricultural areas producing the usual list of related contaminants as well as the use of snowmelt, and the fact that many watersheds cover expansive areas, making it harder to catch all toxic spills or acts of nature.12

Any alarming contaminants? Major urban populations in Colorado have taken home several AWWA clean water awards in the last few years. Outside of cities and towns, tap water may be affected by THMs. As a result, many Colorado water boards recommend carbon filtering, either in-line or at the point of use. Recently, The Denver Post reported on a scheme by Denver water to begin sending residents Brita filters as of April 2020.13

What’s the water hardness/softness? Freezing winter conditions and terrains of drastically varying elevation mean there’s no general rule for water hardness in the state.


Connecticut

ConnecticutHow’s the tap water? As a state, Connecticut’s water is of low overall quality. At 35th in the U.S. News table, part of the state’s water issues are due to the relatively large population for its small size, leading to moderate use of disinfectants.14 According to EPA data, the total number of suppliers with at least one violation has been slightly increasing each year since 2014. However, two Connecticut suppliers were awarded the AWWAs 20-Year Director’s Award for Water Treatment in 2019.

Any alarming contaminants? Chloroform and other disinfection byproducts are found in higher than recommended amounts in just under half of tested utilities in 2019.

What’s the water hardness/softness? Like many areas of the North East, the water in Connecticut is hard.


Delaware

DelawareHow’s the tap water? U.S. News puts Delaware in the middle when it comes to drinking water quality, with slightly less than average violations per hundred-thousand customers. Its small size means the state only has a few hundred public water suppliers, 75 of which recorded a violation in 2019. However, over 80% of Delawareans source their water from public infrastructure.

Any alarming contaminants? According to the 2018 State of Delaware compliance report, two-thirds of Delaware households are connected to public water systems that use groundwater15, which increases the risk of contamination from nitrates man-made sources, such as industrial runoff. Like most states, the EWG lists volatile organic chemicals such as trihalomethanes as the most common contaminants.

What’s the water hardness/softness? As a Northeastern state, Delaware has generally hard water, with an average level of 100-300 sediment parts per million.16


Florida

FloridaHow’s the tap water? Florida’s water quality is a mixed bag. Like many southern states, the overall data on contaminants makes for good reading, with violations by Flordia suppliers decreasing, according to the EPA. However, high general water standards are often offset by common local issues with contamination. Thanks to low elevations, subtropical climates, and frequent extreme weather, many Floridian water sources can be easily infected.

Any alarming contaminants? In 2019, 26 suppliers were found to have illegal levels of THMs, and in 2017, a report by the NRDC ranked Florida second, behind Texas, in states with SDWA violations by population.17 As said above, many of these concerns are due to events such as flooding, which lead to community water boiling orders. The wide use of aquifers also means that many Floridians complain of sulfur-tasting water.

What’s the water hardness/softness? According to archive data from the University of South Florida, water hardness in the state generally runs from North to South—with the Floridian aquifer producing the hardest water at the state’s southern tip.18


Georgia

GeorgiaHow’s the tap water? Alongside its neighbor states, Georgia sits in the top tier of public water systems, according to the U.S. News survey. Despite a relatively large water network consisting of over 1700 utilities, significant levels of the most common contaminants (THMs) were found in only 769 of those suppliers.

Any alarming contaminants? Alarmingly, uranium and radium were found above legal limits in thirty Georgia utility suppliers in 2019. Uranium can appear in tap water as a naturally occurring mineral but is only usually found in its metallic state as a byproduct of industry. Because it is radioactive, uranium can decay into radium, which, if consumed regularly in significant amounts, can affect kidney function, leading to unwanted inflammation19. According to a University of Georgia survey, there may be a wider trend for contaminants in Georgia well water that can’t be detected by taste or smell—up to 31 % of wells may have bacterial contamination.20

What’s the water hardness/softness? Georgia has consistently soft water, making it something of a rarity among states. Atlanta regularly records hardness levels of 21 parts per million—which is unusually soft for a major urban center.21


Hawaii

HawaiiHow’s the tap water? An outlier among states for many reasons, Hawaii’s individuality remains true when it comes to drinking water. The U.S. News survey gives Hawaii the number one spot for drinking water quality, thanks to a violation ratio of less than 0.1% per hundred-thousand residents. As islands formed of volcanic rock, the state enjoys an almost perfect environment for natural water filtration. Water produced as the result of volcanic sediment has a low risk of bacterial contamination and high mineral and electrolyte content, meaning that treatment works can reduce their use of chlorine and other disinfectants. The result is a tap water-purity rivaling the most expensive bottled water brands.

Any alarming contaminants? The EWG survey found no illegal contamination levels in Hawaii’s tap water. Of contaminants with significant levels across state utilities, most, if not all, can be attributed to natural sediment and chemical presence, including nitrates and THMs.

What’s the water hardness/softness? Hawaii has soft water, thanks to the mineral make up of the underlying rock. With low con concentrations of magnesium and calcium, versus higher concentrations of salts, the state’s water is about as soft as it gets.22


Idaho

IdahoHow’s the tap water? Idaho is not a state that’s known for its water quality. Like many areas with large rural expanses, most drinking water is accessed via private, groundwater wells, making quality variable depending on individual filtering standards. Idaho’s public system is ranked 44th by U.S. News, and thanks to large agricultural areas, is more susceptible to contamination from nitrates and arsenic than some other state utilities.23

Any alarming contaminants? Some Idaho utilities have had issues with arsenic contamination, to the extent that the EPA retracted its approval of Idaho’s water quality standards in 2019.24 Since then, accepted arsenic contamination levels have been reduced in many local regions.

What’s the water hardness/softness? Idaho water is minimally hard.


Illinois

IllinoisHow’s the tap water? The picture for Illinois is somewhat mixed and has changed over the past decade. In 2005/6, the fittingly named Illinois district of Champaign won the AWWA’s coveted Annual Water Taste Test for consecutive years.25 The U.S. News survey places Illinois in an impressive 4th place. Other recent surveys have suggested a less rosy picture, however, with concerns about the amount of lead in the water supply.

Any alarming contaminants? The NRDC’s 2017 review of state water quality found that Illinois doesn’t compare well with the rest of the country in terms of lead and copper contamination. While overall state levels are not at the emergency stages of areas such as Flint, Michigan, systems with lead and copper violations did serve 57,338 residents in 2015.26

What’s the water hardness/softness? Illinois is a hard water state, thanks to rich deposits of magnesium and calcium in the area.27


Indiana

IndianaHow’s the tap water? At 34th place, Indiana is a middling state, according to U.S. News. Indiana water has been found to be susceptible to contamination from the large local industrial presence. In 2014, a survey by Environment America found that industry may have dumped up to 17 million lbs of contaminants into Indiana waterways, more than any other state (a number that the Indiana Department of Environmental Management disputes.)28

Any alarming contaminants? According to EWG, 2019’s review of public utilities found three systems in breach of recommended guidelines for levels of haloacetic acids, serving a total of 13,469 residents.

What’s the water hardness/softness? Like most of its neighboring midwest states, Indiana water is hard, with hardness levels generally ranging from 200-350 milligrams per liter.29


Iowa

IowaHow’s the tap water? Public water systems serve 93% of Iowans, and for the most part, these systems produce good quality water, earning the state 26th place in the U.S. News table. In 2018, Iowa hit a ten-year high for water quality assessments,30 and in 2019, Iowa’s City of Ames competed in the AWWA’s Best of the Best water taste test.

Any alarming contaminants? Recent studies have revealed higher than desired levels of nitrates and bacteria in many of Iowa’s private wells.31 While a highly common occurrence, the findings suggest that many Iowans may benefit from filtering their water at the point of use.

What’s the water hardness/softness? Iowa has hard water. Of all the state’s urban centers, Sioux City often tops the list for water hardness, with levels of 22 grains per gallon.32


Kansas

KansasHow’s the tap water? U.S. News puts the state of Kansas at 29th for overall water quality. This hasn’t stopped many suppliers from producing some of the best drinking water around. Kansas City earned the right to compete in AWWA’s 2019 ‘Best of the Best’ taste awards, while two other Kansas suppliers earned AWWA Partnership Program awards, the same year.

Any alarming contaminants? As a region susceptible to extreme weather events, the Kansas tap supply can suffer the effects of contamination from increased sedimentary material due to flooding. For example, flooding in 2019 caused regions of the state sourcing their water from the Missouri River to experience prolonged periods of cloudy, murky looking H2O—though testing didn’t reveal any major health risks.33

What’s the water hardness/softness? Depending on where a supplier sources their water, Kansas water can be harder than average. Water from the state’s underground wells will be much harder than that from the Missouri, which tends to sit around 114 parts per million.34


Kentucky

KentuckyHow’s the tap water? Kentucky comes in at a very respectable 10th place in the U.S. News survey. General water standards in the state are in accordance with, or higher than EPA guidelines—with some cities such as Louisville being renowned for their great-tasting tap supply. However, issues with two contaminants—thallium and PFASs—bring down Kentucky’s standing.

Any alarming contaminants? In EWG’s 2019 review, one Kentucky supplier serving over 3500 people exposed users to illegal levels of thallium, which is often found in high levels in areas where smelting and coal burning occurs. Prolonged exposure to thallium has been shown to affect cellular health and may cause hair loss, liver damage, and reduced sperm motility. PFASs have also been detected in around half of Kentucky suppliers—especially those sourcing water from the Ohio river.35 PFASs are a common contaminant but may increase cancer risks when found in high levels.

What’s the water hardness/softness? Over half of Kentucky is composed of limestone36, which itself is mainly calcium carbonate. As a result, Kentucky not only has a world-famous cave system but harder water than average across most of the state.


Louisiana

LouisianaHow’s the tap water? In recent years, Louisiana’s water systems have been found to contain high levels of contaminants, sometimes illegally so. U.S. News puts Louisiana in 28th place for water quality.

Any alarming contaminants? Nearly 200,000 users of Louisiana’s public systems may have consumed water with illegally high levels of contaminants in 2019. These contaminants include THMs, Arsenic, Radium, and Haloacetic acids. While all of these pollutants are highly common in US water in general, it’s their consumption in high concentrations over time that can lead to damaging health effects. Several northeastern Louisiana water systems have also been found to contain legal, yet nation-high, levels of chloroform.37

What’s the water hardness/softness? Louisiana’s 14 major aquifers provide nearly half of the state’s drinking water, with hard water coming from about half of those sources.38 While it is possible to find soft water in the state, the overall picture is one of hard water.


Maine

MaineHow’s the tap water? Thanks to the underlying geology of the state, many residents of Maine are skeptical about the levels of arsenic in their tap supply. A 2010 USGS assessment of arsenic levels in town wells in Maine found that nearly 20% of tested wells had arsenic concentrations greater than 10 µg/L, while eleven towns had high arsenic levels in over 40% of their wells.39
Partly due to issues with arsenic, but also other contaminants, U.S. News gives the state of Maine 47th place in its water quality ranking.

Any alarming contaminants? As is the case with many rural states, Maine water quality can be variable and prone to contamination, especially for the many residents who use private wells. The 2019 EWG report found that several large utilities in the state had provided water with high (though legal) levels of pollution. For example, water from the Mars Hill and Blaine Water Company, which serves around 1800 people, was found to contain 131 times EWGs recommended level of the potential carcinogenic dichloroacetic acid and 120 times the amount of chloroform. At the time of writing, there are 11 boil recommendations or do not drink orders active within the state.40

What’s the water hardness/softness? Maine’s water is soft by comparison to most states across the country.41


Maryland

MarylandHow’s the tap water? Though it ranks 17th in the U.S. News survey, the Maryland department of resources itself admits that many areas of the state have water levels exceeding management levels42. As a result, Maryland is in the process of implementing $297 million dollars-worth of EPA approved infrastructure projects, including upgraded wastewater treatment plants and stormwater control measures.43

Any alarming contaminants? The EWG estimates that over five million Maryland residents are receiving high levels of THMs and Haloacitic acids in their water supply. Beyond this, the state fares well according to EPA safe water requirements, with only four utilities registering contaminants above legal limits.

What’s the water hardness/softness? The city of Baltimore tops the charts for water hardness in Maryland, with 185 PPM or 11 grains per gallon. Overall the state possesses harder water than average.44


Massachusetts

MassachusettsHow’s the tap water? According to U.S. News, Massachusetts has the best tap water in the east. At 8th place in the survey, the state has long-spent resources on improving their water supply, through programs to conserve ring forests around reservoirs, which lowers overall contamination—and by spending billions on projects to clean the Boston harbor and Charles river. In 2014, Boston won the AWWA Best Taste award.45

Any alarming contaminants? Those who call the state home are likely to experience few contaminants in their water sources, beyond the usual mix of minerals, disinfectants, and low-level THMs found across much of the country. While lead contamination is not a widespread issue in Massachusetts, five community water supplies were found to have actionable levels of the metal in the 2019 annual state water quality report.46

What’s the water hardness/softness? Like much of the Northeast, Massachusetts enjoys softer than average water, thanks to large areas of non-porous bedrock.


Michigan

MichiganHow’s the tap water? Of all states, Michigan’s tap water has received the most media attention in recent years, for obvious reasons. In 2014, the town of Flint unsuccessfully attempted to switch their water source to the Flint River, resulting in outbreaks of E.coli, Legionnaires’ disease, and widespread lead contamination, affecting the health of Flint’s children—in many cases permanently. Today, Flint’s water has been repeatedly shown to meet or exceed EPA requirements, though there remains a significant and understandable lack of public trust in such claims.47 Across the state more widely, it’s not all bad news: in 2019, the City of Cadillac’s tap water was tasty enough to compete in the AWWA ‘Best of the Best’ taste test. Michigan also holds a respectable 27th place in the U.S. News survey.

Any alarming contaminants? Lead most often enters the water supply when acidic water leaches the metal from old or corroding pipes and fittings—not at the water source. While the use of lead was outlawed by the EPA in 1986, plumbing from before that year is not required to be replaced, and thus remains in many older buildings. Lead can be removed at the point of use by a certified home filter. Always look for the right NSF certification when using a filter for safety reasons.

What’s the water hardness/softness? Michigan’s water is considered moderately hard. Some cities and jurisdictions, such as Ann Arbor, treat their public water to slightly reduce hardness.48


Minnesota

MinnesotaHow’s the tap water? With around 75% of all Minnesotans sourcing their tap supply from groundwater, state water quality is highly dependent on levels of industrial and agricultural contamination. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, large regions are experiencing issues with water availability and nitrate contamination.49 State water treatment works are effective, however, with Minnesota sitting 14th, between California and Virginia, in the U.S. News survey.

Any alarming contaminants? Most state utilities are well within EPA guidelines, and only contain those contaminants found in public water throughout the country. That said, the EWG claims that 13 utilities, serving upwards of 90,000 people, had illegal levels of radium in 2019. Many homes and public buildings in Minnesota have also been found to use outdated plumbing, which can leach lead into water supplies. A 2019 survey by Environment America and the PIRG gave Minnesota, along with a host of other states, a ‘Grade F’ for possible lead contamination in school buildings.50

What’s the water hardness/softness? Limestone, dolomite, and other carbonate formations underlie many counties in Minnesota, along with the rest of the upper Midwest. This results in hard water for much of the state.51


Mississippi

MississippiHow’s the tap water? With its river boasting the fourth largest watershed in the world (around 40% of the continental US) and discharging over 16,750 cubic meters of water into the Gulf of Mexico every second, Mississippi has some serious water stats.52 As for its tap water, the state joins other Southern neighbors in the top 10 of the U.S. News survey. Mississippi residents can enjoy relatively pure supplies from groundwater. However, those sourcing their water from the Mississippi river may have more concerns, with several nonprofits and academic departments dedicating themselves to observing and tracking the effects of industrial agriculture on the river’s health.53

Any alarming contaminants? Contaminants from farming and reactions with organic matter are of biggest concern to Mississippians. Many farming pollutants, such as nitrates, can pass through treatment works and into the water supply. At large utilities, such as Bear Creek (East and West), the EWG found levels of trihalomethanes 92 times higher than their recommended levels. In order to find out more about levels of lead contamination in the state, researchers at the University of Mississippi have been carrying out tests in homes across 16 counties, issuing water filters if and when high concentrations of the metal are found. So far, 4.7% of participants have received water filters,54 suggesting that lead contamination is a minor concern for Mississippi residents.

What’s the water hardness/softness? Mississippi water is soft, following the trend for soft water and calcium-rich bedrock across the south.


Missouri

MissouriHow’s the tap water? At 32nd in the U.S. News survey, Missouri is not a state that excels in water quality. Many contaminants that form when disinfectants mix with dead leaves and other stagnating organic matter have been found in high or exceeding levels in water from numerous Missouri utilities. On the other hand, several of the state’s larger cities have a reputation for great-tasting H20. The utilities at Springfield won an AWWA 2019 20 Year Director’s
Award for Water Treatment, while St. Louis came out on top in a blind taste test of over 90 cities by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.55

Any alarming contaminants? 32,230 Missourians may have been exposed to levels of radium above the legal limit, according to the EWG. THMs were also found to be illegally high in utilities supplying 22,336 users, says the same survey.

What’s the water hardness/softness? Cape Girardeau tops the hardness table for large urban areas in Missouri, with 15 grains per gallon.56 Overall, the state has average to moderately hard water.


Montana

MontanaHow’s the tap water? As home to some of the wildest and most rural terrain in the country, Montana’s water can be both excellent and suspect. The city of Bozeman took third place in AWWA’s 15th annual ‘Best of the Best’ Water Taste Test, having been a frequent competitor in the competition. On the other hand, the state ranks 49th in the U.S. News survey, ahead of only Alaska, thanks to ongoing warnings of toxic algae and high nitrate levels in many areas of the state.57

Any alarming contaminants? Tap water should not be consumed without filtration in several parts of Montana. This is due to the contamination of groundwater sources with stagnant surface water. The EWG found that some, albeit smaller, utilities such as St. Labre Indian School in Ashland had up to 419 times the level of THMs they recommend for potable water. Most water sources in Montana are privately maintained, making data collection and quality assurance more difficult.

What’s the water hardness/softness? Most water in Montana is not particularly hard by comparison to the rest of the continental US.


Nebraska

NebraskaHow’s the tap water? Nebraska tap water is considered the 38th best in the country by U.S. News. Despite 85% of Nebraskans using groundwater, heavy amounts of agriculture in the state mean water sources require careful observation and maintenance to ensure low levels of contamination.

Any alarming contaminants? Following a trend for rural states, groundwater sources tested by the Department of Environment and Energy in Nebraska often show the presence of nitrates, mostly as a result of agricultural disruption. In the 2019 groundwater monitoring report, other farming-related substances were also found to a more minor extent, including herbicides used for weed control.58

What’s the water hardness/softness? Most Nebraska city water suppliers categorize their water as hard, with average levels of around 18 grains per gallon.59


Nevada

NevadaHow’s the tap water? At 18th in the U.S. News survey, the quality of Nevada’s tap water is nothing to sniff at, but also isn’t going to impress the pickiest of palettes.

Any alarming contaminants? Conversations about Nevada tap water often revolve around perchlorates—rocket fuelling chemicals produced in the state during the latter half of the twentieth century. Perchlorates have been found in Nevada tap water for decades, and are still often present today, though a long clean up process has lowered amounts to safe levels.60 Other common contaminants in the state’s water include arsenic and nitrates.

What’s the water hardness/softness? As is the case for many central and arid areas, Nevada has hard water, with the Colorado river being a mineral-rich source. This makes Las Vegas one of the hardest-water cities in the entire country.61


New Hampshire

New HampshireHow’s the tap water? Ninety-five percent of the community water systems in New Hampshire are small, local systems, serving less than 3000 people.62 This results in variability in the state water supply, which means New Hampshire gets 42nd place in the U.S. News survey.

Any alarming contaminants? Approximately one in five New Hampshire private wells are thought to contain concerning levels of the arsenic.63 This is not unusual for well water across the US but should warrant proper filtering.

What’s the water hardness/softness? Naturally occurring iron and manganese deposits can cause New Hampshire water to be both hard and metallic-tasting.


New Jersey

New JerseyHow’s the tap water? With more residents drinking from surface water sources (lakes, rivers, and reservoirs) than groundwater, the potential for contamination in New Jersey’s water supply is higher than in many states.64 The predominant use of surface water also means that Jersey’s water is vulnerable to contamination from microorganisms and organic matter. While treatment works are able to remove these pollutants through the use of disinfectants, this process can leave drinking water with residual chemical traces.

Any alarming contaminants? The 2019 EWG survey estimates that 482 suppliers serving 8,765,749 people may be producing water with high (though legal) levels of trihalomethanes and other organic chemicals.

What’s the water hardness/softness? New Jersey follows the trend for the Northeast as a mostly soft water state.


New Mexico

New MexicoHow’s the tap water? New Mexico holds the spot of 43rd on the U.S. News table of tap water quality. Generally speaking, the state’s water quality is low to poor, and also faces concerns about supply. Warming winter temperatures have meant less snowpack and less snowmelt into New Mexico reservoirs of the Rio Grande.65 According to Business Insider, “industries and municipalities in the state use about 95% of New Mexico’s available annual water supply.”

Any alarming contaminants? The alarm has been recently raised about the effects of chemical runoff from military bases in the state. The municipality of Clovis found the carcinogen PFAS in around 25% of its public wells.66 More generally, water in New Mexico is high in Arsenic, with illegal levels of the contaminant found in 12 state utilities, according to the EWG.

What’s the water hardness/softness? New Mexico has hard water. Many New Mexicans, such as those sourcing their water from the Edgewood and Thunder Mountain system, can expect water hardness levels of up to 44 grains per gallon.67


New York

New YorkHow’s the tap water? New York City takes much of the spotlight when it comes to the state’s drinking water, thanks to a world-leading public treatment works serving over nine million people—the largest in the country.68 Outside NYC, state water is still of good quality, 12th place in the U.S. News survey.

Any alarming contaminants? Like many rural and heavily wooded areas of the country, New York’s water is vulnerable to contamination from THMs—organic chemicals that can form when organic matter comes into contact with disinfectants like chlorine. Specifically, the EWG estimates that 16 New York utilities serving nearly 11,000 people were above the legal limits for THMs in 2019.

What’s the water hardness/softness? New Yorkers can enjoy soft to moderately hard water, which—while good news for appliances and hairstyles—does not support the widely held idea that New York water is a key ingredient in its famous bagels.69


North Carolina

North CarolinaHow’s the tap water? At 24th in the U.S. News survey, NC joins a number of states investigating levels of PFAS in their water supply. With its high concentration of military and industrial sites, initial findings suggest that North Carolina may be among the most polluted places in the country for these harmful chemicals.70

Any alarming contaminants? Beyond PFAS, up to 3.3 million North Carolina residents use private wells to source their drinking water, meaning that a large contingent of the state population is drinking water with a higher potential for contamination.71 Those on the public water supply may find that their water has significant levels of Bromodichloromethane, which can be easily removed with the use of a carbon filter.

What’s the water hardness/softness? The state has soft water, with some populations such as Charlotte experiencing averages as low as 30 parts per million of mineral content.72


North Dakota

North DakotaHow’s the tap water? Water quality has been improving in North Dakota, with both serious and nonserious utility violations consistently decreasing since 2014. This trend earned the state 20th place in the 2019 U.S. News table and means that ND residents can feel confident in relying on simple charcoal filtration at home.

Any alarming contaminants? North Dakota water is almost universally within EPA safe water standards, but this doesn’t stop tap supplies from containing high levels of contamination. The WEG found 1o significant contaminants across hundreds of state utilities, with the biggest offenders being THMs and Chloroform.

What’s the water hardness/softness? North Dakota water is slightly harder than average at 7-17 grains per gallon.


Ohio

OhioHow’s the tap water? Ohio’s tap water is of good quality compared to the wider country, sitting in 11th place in the U.S. News survey. The City of Wyoming’s water is considered so good that it competed in AWWAs 2019 ‘Best of the Best’ taste test. The same may not be true of the state’s surface water, however. A recent study found that some Ohio backcountry water sources have unsafe levels of E. Coli, prompting warnings for hikers and wilderness lovers.73

Any alarming contaminants? As is the case for many agricultural states, recent studies are beginning to reveal the presence of PFAS in Ohio drinking water74—a trend that looks set to increase as more states conduct tests for the damaging chemical compounds. Ohio tap water also contains higher than desirable levels of bromodichloromethane.

What’s the water hardness/softness? Being a midwest state, water in Ohio is traditionally hard, to the extent that some municipalities such as Columbus soften their water at the source.75


Oklahoma

OklahomaHow’s the tap water? Oklahoma’s water, especially it’s surface water reservoirs, struggle with contamination from various heavy metals.76 This is the predominant reason why the state takes 45th place in the U.S. News table.

Any alarming contaminants? A large proportion of state utilities in Oklahoma provide water with a significant level of THMs. Because it can be difficult for treatment works to completely remove these contaminants from the water supply, most public health organizations advise on filtering THMs at home, using a carbon filter. More worrisome, some Oklahoma water may contain naturally occurring radioactive materials. Though small, three suppliers serving around 3,750 people were found by the EWG to have levels of radium above legal limits.

What’s the water hardness/softness? Much of western Oklahoma use groundwater sources, which can be harder than the surface water used more to the east of the state.77

76 Hydroviv | Water quality report, 2019.
77 OWRB | Groundwater, (Accessed) 2020.


Oregon

OregonHow’s the tap water? With many Oregon residents sourcing their water from the Mt. Hood national park, state water quality is generally high, as well as being closely monitored. This year, the city of Portland is beginning a project to stabilize the ph level of water, with the aim of reducing the possibility of lead corrosion.78 Concerns about state water do exist, however. In 2018, two counties were issued a state of emergency of toxins in the water supply. Overuse of aquifers to the southeast of the state is also an issue for Oregonians’ tap water.79

Any alarming contaminants? Frequent contaminants in Oregon water include arsenic, with ten utilities found by the EWG to exceed safe legal levels.

What’s the water hardness/softness? As a northwest state, Oregon follows the trend of medium to soft water. Some of the softest water in the state is found in its major urban centers, with Portland enjoying mineral levels of around 3-8 parts per million.80


Pennsylvania

PennsylvaniaHow’s the tap water? U.S. News ranks Pennsylvania as the 40th best state in the country for drinking water quality. Part of this low ranking is due to the widespread presence of organic chemical contaminants across state utilities—over 1,500, serving over 10 million Pennsylvanians. On the more positive side, Pennsylvania’s water supply earned five AWWA 2019 partner program awards across several counties, with the Bristol Surface Water Treatment Plant competing in the ‘Best of the Best’ taste test awards.

Any alarming contaminants? Unfortunately, serious violations by water suppliers are rising in Pennsylvania, with 352 systems crossing safe levels in 2019, compared to 141 in 2015.

What’s the water hardness/softness? Most homes in Pennsylvania will experience hard tap water.


Rhode Island

Rhode Island How’s the tap water? While U.S. News calls Rhode Island the state with the best urban air quality in the country, it demotes it to 19th place when it comes to the quality of tap water. The state is not immune to growing concerns about PFAS contamination, which emerged in Rhode Island after firefighting foam was found to have entered the water supply in the Oakland Village district.81

Any alarming contaminants? According to the EPA, Rhode Island’s utility suppliers have a good track record when it comes to any serious contamination violations—but that didn’t stop 151 systems from registering more minor violations in 2019. Among these, the most common contaminant was THMs, in line with most suppliers across the US.

What’s the water hardness/softness? Many RI suppliers such as Providence Water regulate water hardness levels.82 In unregulated areas,


South Carolina

South CarolinaHow’s the tap water? With around 75% of residents sourcing water from publicly-maintained systems, the quality of drinking water South Carolina is consistently high—earning the state 5th place in the 2019 U.S. News survey.

Any alarming contaminants? While serious violations across the state are almost nonexistent, Local news organization The State reports that “Since 2011, 41 small utilities serving South Carolinians have exceeded the federal safety standard for lead in the water at least once.”83 This is not uncommon for areas where utilities are small, and may not have the resources to filter for heavy metals.

What’s the water hardness/softness? South Carolina has some of the cleanest and softest water in the country, with minerals levels rarely exceeding 3 grains per gallon.84


South Dakota

South DakotaHow’s the tap water? South Dakota fairs significantly worse than North Dakota in the U.S. News survey, a full 16 places below its neighbor. The state has seen relatively high levels of system violation over the last five years, with 148 registered violations in 2019, 12 of them considered serious. In general, the quality of water sources in South Dakota seems to be deteriorating, with a recent report by the state environment department finding that nearly 80% of rivers and streams are not fit for designated purposes (swimming, fishing, drinking, etc.)85

Any alarming contaminants? Common contaminants in South Dakota public water systems include trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids—both frequently found in water sources that contain high levels of organic matter and have been treated with chlorine. A carbon home filter will remove most of these volatile chemicals.

What’s the water hardness/softness? Much like North Dakota, South Dakota home can expect to receive water that’s slightly harder than average.


Tennessee

TennesseeHow’s the tap water? Tennessee water is usually pretty great. Along with Alabama and South Carolina, Tennessee makes the top five states for water quality in the U.S. News survey. Southern states tend to fare better for overall water quality thanks to their extensive river and stream networks and deep groundwater aquifers.

Any alarming contaminants? Despite Tennessee’s overall high water quality, isolated water incidents do occur. The 2019 EWG survey found that two state utilities, supplying up to 21,058 people, delivered water with excess levels of fluoride. Some level of fluoride in water is considered beneficial to teeth and bone health. However, an excess of the chemical may begin to damage bones.

What’s the water hardness/softness? Tennessee’s water can be hard to moderately hard, thanks to the presence of calcium carbonate in soil.


Texas

TexasHow’s the tap water? Texas is one of the 10 states that have been deemed the worst in the country for tap water. This is mainly due to a series of contamination events over the last few years that don’t appear to have had clear resolutions. In addition, U.S. News gives the lone star state 30th place in its league table, while EPA ECHO shows high levels of serious and non-serious violations over the past five years—although the good news is that these numbers are slowly decreasing.

Any alarming contaminants? In 2018, close to 500 Texas utilities tested positive for weed killers, containing ingredients not designed for human consumption—even during a time of the season when herbicides aren’t widely used.86 While urban areas definitely fare better, the EWG notes that rural parts of Texas use water from small utilities that may contain undesirable levels of lead, arsenic, and radioactive metals.87

What’s the water hardness/softness? Much of Texas lies within the most Calcium Carbonate-rich part of the country, giving it the 6th hardest water in the country. As always, there are exceptions—such as the city of Waco, which enjoys soft water.88


Utah

UtahHow’s the tap water? Utah is 36th in the U.S. News survey and has been called America’s thirstiest state, thanks to it topping the list of most water use per public supply customer at times in the past decades.89

Any alarming contaminants? Drinking water in Utah can become contaminated with radium, due to the natural geology of the state. The EWG estimates that nearly 3 million people may have been exposed to significant (though legal) levels of radium, through water from 368 Utah utility systems. While small amounts of the material are likely of no harm, regular consistent contact with any radioactive substance may cause health issues, particularly cancers.

What’s the water hardness/softness? Calcium carbonate-rich earth produces some amazing sights in Utah, such as the vibrant blue Bear Lake. Unfortunately, that same mix of minerals means state water can be extremely hard, with many, if not most Utahns/Utahans using some form of a water softener.


Vermont

VermontHow’s the tap water? Vermont sits in 48th place on the U.S. News survey. One reason for the state’s mixed reputation for drinking water could be because of recent rapid increases in blue-green algae, which form in state reservoirs and surface water, such as Lake Champlain.90 A long time problem for Vermont lakes, the state’s public utilities are almost always able to treat drinking water for this cyanotoxin-producing microorganism. However, suppliers are not required by law to monitor for the blooms or test drinking water for the toxins91. As a result, the Vermont department of health oversees and secures funding for weekly cyanotoxin testing in affected areas.

Any alarming contaminants? Alongside concerns over cyanotoxins, Vermont water may contain a typical mix of volatile chemicals and chloroform, all of which can (and should) be removed at the point of use by a home carbon filter. The EWG also estimates that suppliers serving around 1800 Vermonters may produce water with illegal levels of the carcinogen Benzo[a]pyrene.

What’s the water hardness/softness? Vermonters can expect their water to range from moderately hard to hard—pretty much average for the US.


Virginia

VirginiaHow’s the tap water? Virginia places a very respectable 15th in the U.S. News survey. According to data from the EPA ECHO, however, state utilities are not actively decreasing contamination, with fewer systems being returned to compliance each year since 2015.

Any alarming contaminants? Nearly 7 million residents of Virginia may be exposed to high levels of trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids through their water supply. While common, and mostly within legal limits, these chemicals are considered carcinogenic when consumed regularly. A total of six Virginia utilities exceeded legal levels for these contaminants in 2019.

What’s the water hardness/softness? Unlike West Virginia, Virginia’s water is of average hardness.


Washington

WashingtonHow’s the tap water? Despite higher than average levels of several common contaminants, Washington state water does reasonably well in the 2019 U.S. News survey, in 22nd place. Spokane Valley water also earned its right to compete in the 2019 AWWA ‘Best of the Best’ taste test awards.

Any alarming contaminants? Arsenic contamination is somewhat of an issue in Washington state, with the EWG estimating that over 4,000 people are served by utilities with levels above the legal limit. Other prominent contaminants in the area include THMs and bromodichloromethane, which are drank by as many as 5.5 million Washingtonians. Luckily almost all THMs and other organic chemicals can be filtered at home by an activated carbon filter.

What’s the water hardness/softness? On average Washington is a soft water state. The Seattle and Tacoma metro areas enjoy mineral levels of around 1 grain per gallon.92


West Virginia

West VirginiaHow’s the tap water? Several factors mean that West Virginia makes our top 10 for states with the worst tap water. Aside from placing 46th in the U.S. News survey, West Virginia has endured recent serious contamination events, particularly the 2014 Freedom Industries chemical spill, which left 300,000 state residents without safe tap water.93 While contaminants in affected counties should now have returned to safe levels, the presence of chemical traces in the water supply can persist at lower levels for much longer.

Any alarming contaminants? The emerging public health controversy surrounding the presence of PFAS in tap water is particularly relevant to West Virginia, which is home to several factories that manufactured the chemicals, and are likely to have contaminated water supplies in neighboring communities. To combat this contaminant, a new house bill has been put forward to the state legislature to introduce mandatory testing, maximum contaminant levels, and possible treatment techniques—although those treatments have not yet been begun.94

What’s the water hardness/softness? West Virginia has mostly soft to very soft water. There are some areas, such as Spring Hollow and Retreat, that buck the trend with hard water sources.95


Wisconsin

WisconsinHow’s the tap water? While most Wisconsin tap water contains a similar cocktail of organic chemicals, minerals, metals, and other contaminants as the rest of the US, higher than average concentrations of these pollutants in many counties means this state is listed as 31st in the U.S News table.

Any alarming contaminants? The Wisconsin Department of Health Services acknowledges that state water may contain low levels of arsenic, bacteria, manganese, and nitrates.96 The EWG’s 2019 survey also found significant levels of radium in 16 Wisconsin utilities, serving over 150,000 people. Lead piping also remains a concern in many areas of the state.97

What’s the water hardness/softness? Most Wisconsin water sources produce very hard tap water, with cities such as Madison registering 18-20 grains of hardness per gallon.98


Wyoming

WyomingHow’s the tap water? Wyoming has the slightly strange distinction of being the only state without the authority to administer its own public water supply program.99 This means the EPA is directly responsible for implementing the safe drinking water act inside the state. The arrangement doesn’t seem to have made a dramatic difference to water quality, with Wyoming ranked the 41st best state for tap water in the country, according to U.S. News.

Any alarming contaminants? Radium and uranium were found in considerable, though legal, levels in over one hundred public state water systems by the EWG. Radioactive metals can occur in water sources due to erosion natural deposits, but they’re still worth filtering for at home. This can be achieved with an ion exchange or reverse osmosis system.

What’s the water hardness/softness? Wyoming residents can expect harder water than average. The city of Casper often registers the hardest water among that state’s major population centers, with 12 grains per gallon.100