In Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” a sailor on a becalmed ship surrounded by salt water famously said, “Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.” It wasn’t a misguided priority; after all, water is the elixir of our lives. We wash and cook with it, play in it, and, most importantly, drink it. Fortunately, most water quality in the the U.S. is quite good — but not all.
Who can forget the crisis in Flint, Michigan, where the water was undrinkable due to copious amounts of lead? More recently in the small town of Oakley, Utah, the water shortage is so severe that officials there ceased all construction, effectively ending a housing boom sparked by folks from the left coast looking to live there. It can often go overlooked, but local water quality is something all homebuyers should be aware of when choosing where to live.
So, what places have the best water quality? How can homebuyers get insights into the water quality where they intend to move?
How to Obtain a Local Water Quality Report
If you’re a homebuyer, figuring out an area’s water quality is fairly simple. Each year by July 1, homeowners should receive a Consumer Confidence Report, aka, an annual drinking water quality report, from their water suppliers. This report tells you where the water comes from, such as an aquifer or river, lists any regulated contaminants that may have been detected, the potential health threats from consuming those contaminants, and how their level compares to national standards.
Simply ask the home seller to provide this for you; if they don’t have it, your agent can likely procure it for you. Buyers also can call the local water supplier to obtain a report, or you can access the Environmental Protection Agency’s interactive map to help you find the report for your county. Finally, you also can call EPA’s Safe Water Hotline (800-426-47910) to learn more about your CCR, how to locate your local water utility or to discuss other issues.
What You Should Know About Well Water
If the area you’re considering is one of the 13 million or so that rely on a well for drinking water, find out if the homes you’re considering come with a water filtration and purification system (either for the entire house or at least the kitchen sink). Absent that, have the water tested by an independent contractor/water specialist to determine the well’s water quality.
The EPA does not regulate private wells, nor does it provide recommended criteria or standards for individual wells. But it does offer information regarding the importance of testing private wells and guidance on technologies that may be used to treat or remove any contaminants. The agency’s website also provides links to other federal and non-profit websites that offers additional educational materials and resources to help private well owners.
Another choice, of course, is to go with bottled water. But a 2019 study by the Environmental Working Group found contaminants in many popular brands, including disinfection byproducts, industrial chemicals, prescription drugs and even bacteria. Plus, it’s expensive and wasteful to use them long-term, so should only be used when no other options are available.
Top States for Water Quality
Numerous studies have crowned the best states for water quality, including a 2019 U.S. News and World Report report that determined its rankings based on the EPA’s weighted point system to track violations of the Safe Water Drinking Act. According to their most recent report, Hawaii earns the top spot for water quality, followed by Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Massachusetts.
Another study by Aquasana, maker of water filtration systems and filters, ranked states based on which go the extra mile with stricter drinking water testing and standards. Their study put Rhode Island in the top spot, noting that the state’s Office of Water Resources carefully monitors all aspects of water quality, including wastewater discharges and groundwater pollution.
South Dakota, where 95% of its tap water meets all health standards, is next on Aquasana’s Top Five list, followed by Minnesota, New Hampshire and Connecticut. New Hampshire, the report says, has some of the nation’s strictest drinking water standards, while Connecticut is one of only two states prohibiting discharges from wastewater treatment plants within public water supply watersheds.
At the bottom of the list, Aquasana identified Arizona as the worst state when it comes to water quality, followed by California, Ohio, Washington and Georgia.
Best Cities for Water Quality
When it comes to more precise locations, a couple studies drill down to the city level. TheTravel.com, on online travel news service, ranked cities based on how clean the water is if you choose to drink it straight from the tap.
No. 1 on TheTravel’s list is Louisville, Kentucky, where the water is filtered through sand and gravel and undergoes hundreds of tests every day to ensure it’s safe and clean. Rounding out the top five are:
- Oklahoma City, where tap water comes from six man-made lakes (as opposed to a natural source) and is filtered and treated with ozone.
- Silverdale, Washington, with water that comes from Green Mountain; the aquifer is so pure there that any rainwater that falls in it can be consumed without filtration or treatment.
- Greenville, South Carolina, which gets its tap water from a 26,000-acre pristine area of the Blue Ridge foothills.
- Fort Collins, Colorado, where the water comes from the mountain snowmelt and the Cache La Poudre River and is filtered through coal and treated with chlorine.
Another study from LawnStarter.com, a company that links homeowners with landscapers in their areas found a whole different set of cities. Instead, their rankings placed the North Carolina cities of Cary and Winston-Salem in the top 2 for their aggressive water quality testing and improvement programs that began in 2018. Next on their list are Yonkers, New York, Bellevue, Washington, and Clarksville, Tennessee.
Most studies we found looked at water quality from a drinkability standpoint, and for good reason: when we’re hydrated, we’re healthier. But, remember that local and state legislation is always changing, along with neighborhoods and their corresponding water systems. Stay updated by checking the EPA’s website and searching local news stories for anything you may not be aware of prior to moving. That way, you can ensure there’s always a drop to drink.