Discover the 9 States with the Worst Tap Water in the United States

Written by Kristen Holder
Updated: July 29, 2023
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Some tap water contains potentially harmful levels of contaminants. The Safe Drinking Water Act sets high standards for American drinking water. However, these standards are not always met. We’ll discover the states with the worst tap water in the United States plus some reasons why their water is so terrible.

The 9 States with the Worst Tap Water in the USA

These are the states with the worst tap water.

9. Texas

Snow in Texas

The extreme winter storm that hit Texas in 2021 temporarily affected water supplies in some areas.

©iStock.com/RoschetzkyIstockPhoto

Texas ranks as one of the states with the worst tap water. The areas with the poorest water in Texas are rural communities, as their infrastructure is outdated. Not many plans are made to upgrade systems.

When an unexpected snowstorm slammed Texas in 2021, the state’s self-managed power grid went down. When this happened, water treatment plants couldn’t operate. As a result, boil water notices were issued to millions of residents.

8. Florida

Winter Haven florida chain of lakes

Florida is a low-lying state susceptible to groundwater pollution.

©shannon Carnevale/Shutterstock.com

The State of Florida primarily relies on groundwater since it’s a low-lying state. Low-income residents are at a higher risk of consuming contaminated tap water.

That’s because the tap water consumed in poorer neighborhoods contains pollutants like aluminum. These pollutants are not present in affluent areas in the same city.

Florida is also susceptible to natural disasters which pollute its water. A porous aquifer sits underneath the low-lying state, so any water impurities introduced above will affect the groundwater.

If a contamination disaster occurs, water supplies for huge swaths of residents are potentially affected. Such contaminations may be oil spills and red tides. Storms also knock out infrastructure which means untreated tap water can cause diseases due to unchecked bacteria.

7. Pennsylvania

Atop a coal waste pile at an abandoned anthracite coal mine in Pennsylvania. A wind farm is in the background.

Coal mining has contaminated tens of thousands of miles of waterways in Pennsylvania.

©The American Explorer/Shutterstock.com

Pennsylvania is home to terrible tap water because a huge focus on industrial production in the state damaged its water resources. Coal mining is responsible for high levels of pollution along twenty thousand miles of state waterways. Swimming and fishing are not recommended in most streams due to contamination.

6. New Jersey

Pouring water from bottle into glass on blue background

In 2017, residents of Newark in New Jersey, were forced to drink only bottled water.

©Tarasyuk Igor/Shutterstock.com

The byproduct of large-scale manufacturing in New Jersey has contaminated the water supply. However, water treatment rules are now more stringent to address these toxic byproducts. This means that New Jersey’s water quality is slowly improving. 

In places like Newark, lead contamination has been a problem. Some of the infrastructure throughout the state is more than 100 years old. Pipe corrosion is exposing citizens to unsafe amounts of lead in their tap water.

In 2017, fifteen thousand residents in Newark were forced to drink bottled water due to lead contamination. During this time, more than 10 percent of Newark homes had water with double the amount of lead deemed safe by the government.

Toward the end of 2018, the lead levels in Newark were still terrible, so the city gave residents forty thousand water filters. Homes in June 2019 with these filters still had dangerously high levels of lead.

Since then, the city has handed out more bottles of water and filters. Unfortunately, some of the water bottles distributed were past their expiration date. Today, problems with Newark’s tap water persists though the situation has improved.

5. Georgia

Most of Georgia's rivers and streams are polluted.

Most of Georgia’s rivers and streams are polluted.

©Cavan-Images/Shutterstock.com

Georgia is plagued by multiple water contaminants since most of its wells, rivers, and streams are polluted. Contamination levels above legal limits of arsenic, radium, chloroform, and bromate have been detected in certain Georgian municipalities.

As in other states, rural areas are hit the hardest by tap water contaminants. That’s because aging infrastructure isn’t maintained by small communities. It’s not possible to update current systems because the financing isn’t there.

4. Washington

The Spokane River at sunset, in Spokane, Washington.

Washington State has too many overdue inspections on lead levels in vulnerable communities.

©ESB Professional/Shutterstock.com

Like other states on this list, Washington’s worst water is in its rural communities. The state is too lax when it comes to testing lead levels in the water since most inspections are overdue. This is especially alarming given that a large portion of its infrastructure outside of Seattle is in poor condition.

3. Ohio

Cleveland, Ohio, USA downtown skyline on the Cuyahoga River at dusk.

The Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught on fire in 1969.

©iStock.com/Sean Pavone

Due to subpar mining practices, industrial runoff, and aging pipe infrastructure, Ohio has some of the worst tap water in the nation. The most dangerous contaminant is lead, caused by massive industrialization and decaying pipelines.

Ohio is no stranger to ridicule around water pollution. On June 22, 1969, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught on fire due to industrial debris and oil.

Despite the media frenzy around the 1969 fire, the Cuyahoga River had gone ablaze more than ten times in the preceding 100 years. While the fire lasted less than an hour and did little damage, Ohio’s water reputation is still affected by this incident.

2. California

Colorful alternating rows of green and purple lettuce are harvested in the fields of the Salinas Valley of central California, with the Gabilan Mountains in the background. Lettuce harvest season.

Rural homes in California have worse water than people living in big cities.

©David A Litman/Shutterstock.com

California’s rural areas have some of the worst tap water in America. That’s because decaying infrastructure and farmland contaminants affect the water quality in these communities.

These rural communities are not protected by tougher laws that control some municipal water supplies in population centers. The State of California has low standards for water; however, cities often create independent legislation.

Cities want to know their water meets health standards that their internal population deems appropriate. These standards far exceed state standards. As a consequence, poorer areas without these extra safeguards do not have the same protection as city dwellers.

1. Arizona Provides the Worst Tap Water in the United States

The Colorado River delivers polluted water to Arizona from sources upstream.

The Colorado River delivers polluted water to Arizona from sources upstream.

©Beth Ruggiero-York/Shutterstock.com

Arizona is the state with the worst tap water in the United States. Arizona is one of the driest states in the country. On top of this, most of its water sources are polluted.

The Colorado River contains many contaminants added to the water through its course across the western United States. Since Arizona is close to the end of this river system, it consumes the majority of the toxins gradually added to the water. Over 35 percent of the state is reliant on the Colorado River for its water.

Locals in the Phoenix Valley are all too familiar with the impurities in local tap water. On some days, the water that comes in through the faucets of residents is murky with what looks like dust.

This discoloration isn’t dust though it can be tasted, which dirties the flavor of the water. The City of Phoenix states that tap discoloration is from minerals stirred up by water flow and that it is safe to drink.

Summary of the 9 States with the Worst Tap Water in the United States

RankState
1 Arizona
2California
3 Ohio
4Washington
5Georgia
6 New Jersey
7Pennsylvania
8Florida
9Texas

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Tarasyuk Igor/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Kristen Holder is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering topics related to history, travel, pets, and obscure scientific issues. Kristen has been writing professionally for 3 years, and she holds a Bachelor's Degree from the University of California, Riverside, which she obtained in 2009. After living in California, Washington, and Arizona, she is now a permanent resident of Iowa. Kristen loves to dote on her 3 cats, and she spends her free time coming up with adventures that allow her to explore her new home.

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