6 U.S. Cities With The Worst Water Quality
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Top 10 U.S. Cities With the Worst Water Quality

Having access to clean, filtered water is an essential component of living a healthy life. One of the most widespread public health issues today is contaminated drinking water, highlighted by the 2015 water crisis seen in Flint, Michigan. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that almost 1 billion people around the world lack access to safe drinking water. Ingesting contaminated or polluted drinking water can create a variety of both long-term and short-term negative health impacts. There are many different potential causes of contamination, including industrial processes, naturally occurring contaminants, water treatment systems (if not monitored appropriately), pharmaceutical products, and much more.

Water quality is regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and can vary significantly from city to city. The Environmental Working Group (EWG), an American non-profit organization specializing in research and advocacy, notes that legal limits for contaminants in tap water have not been updated for almost 20 years. The EWG also notes that a water utility passing federal health standards for drinking water does not always mean the water provided by the utility meets the latest health guidelines. Our article summarizes findings based on the EWG’s water quality data and research.

How the List Was Compiled

We have compiled a list of the top ten cities in the United States with the worst water quality, based on the EWG’s extensive Tap Water Database. The locations chosen were selected based on the number of utility violations accrued from April 2019 through March 2021. Only large utilities with violations are mentioned, as many of the small utilities with violations serve around 50 to 100 people. While small utilities with violations need to improve as well, this article is geared toward cities with larger populations.

Violation Points are determined by specific problems at the utility, where drinking water health violations receive more points than monitoring, reporting, or length of time until corrected violations. The database housing the compliance information used to generate violation points is the EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online database. Below are the cities and associated large utilities that have the worst water quality in the United States.

  1. Palatka, FL
  • Utility: R. C. Willis WTP (City of Palatka)
  • Population Served: 11,900
  • Violation Points: 70

The City of Palatka is in Putnam County, Florida and located south of Jacksonville. Groundwater is the source of drinking water, and 14 contaminants were detected from 2014 to 2019, with 4 exceeding EWG Health Guidelines. Tap water for this city was in compliance with federal health-based drinking water standards during the latest assessment from January 2021 to March 2021. Read more about the violations in Palatka here.   

  1. Pikeville, KY
  • Utility: Mountain Water District #1 Marrow Bone
  • Population Served: 48,286
  • Violation Points: 75

Pikeville is located in far east Kentucky. Surface water is the source of drinking water, and 18 contaminants were detected from 2014 to 2019, with 5 exceeding EWG Health Guidelines. Tap water for this city was in compliance with federal health-based drinking water standards during the latest assessment from January 2021 to March 2021. Read more about the City of Pikeville violations here.  

  1. West Monroe, LA
  • Utility: Southwest Ouachita Waterworks Inc.
  • Population Served: 10,092
  • Violation Points: 75

The City of West Monroe is located in north Louisiana, off Highway 20. Groundwater is the source of drinking water, and 20 contaminants were detected from 2014 to 2020, with 12 exceeding EWG Health Guidelines. Tap water for this city was in compliance with federal health-based drinking water standards during the latest assessment from January 2021 to March 2021. Read more about West Monroe violations here.  

  1. Lemoore, CA
  • Utility: City of Lemoore
  • Population Served: 24,945
  • Violation Points: 85

The City of Lemoore is located northwest of Los Angeles and south of the City of Fresno. Groundwater is the source of drinking water, and 31 contaminants were detected from 2013 to 2019, with 13 exceeding EWG Health Guidelines. Tap water for this city was in compliance with federal health-based drinking water standards during the latest assessment from January 2021 to March 2021. Read more about Lemoore violations here.  

  1. Lindsay, CA
  • Utility: City of Lindsay
  • Population Served: 13,445
  • Violation Points: 90

Lindsay, CA is located southeast of the City of Visalia and north of Porterville. Surface water is the source of drinking water, and 32 contaminants were detected from 2014 to 2019, with 17 exceeding EWG Health Guidelines. Tap water for this city was in compliance with federal health-based drinking water standards during the latest assessment from January 2021 to March 2021. Read more about the City of Lindsay violations here.  

  1. Waukesha, WI
  • Utility: Waukesha Water Utility
  • Population Served: 70,718
  • Violation Points: 98

The City of Waukesha is part of the Milwaukee metropolitan area along Lake Michigan. Groundwater is the source of drinking water, and 27 contaminants were detected from 2014 to 2020, with 11 exceeding EWG Health Guidelines. Tap water for this city was in compliance with federal health-based drinking water standards during the latest assessment from January 2021 to March 2021. Read more about Waukesha violations here.

  1. Sunland Park, NM
  • Utility: Camino Real Regional Utility Authority
  • Population Served: 17,016
  • Violation Points: 105

Sunland Park is located on the borders of the Mexican state of Chihuahua and Texas, near El Paso, Texas. Groundwater is the source of drinking water, and 25 contaminants were detected from 2014 to 2019, with 11 exceeding EWG Health Guidelines. Tap water for this city was in serious violation of federal health-based drinking water standards during the latest assessment from January 2021 to March 2021, primarily due to Arsenic concentrations that are over the legal limit. Read more about the City of Sunland Park violations here.

  1. Chickasha, OK
  • Utility: Chickasha Municipal Authority
  • Population Served: 16,036
  • Violation Points: 105

The City of Chickasha is located southwest of Oklahoma City, OK, along Highway 44. Surface water is the source of drinking water, and 21 contaminants were detected from 2013 to 2019, with 12 exceeding EWG Health Guidelines. Tap water for this city was in compliance with federal health-based drinking water standards during the latest assessment from January 2021 to March 2021. Read more about Chickasha violations here.

  1. Ardmore, OK
  • Utility: Southern Oklahoma Water Corp
  • Population Served: 11,250
  • Violation Points: 110

Ardmore, OK is located along Interstate 35, between Oklahoma City and Dallas, TX. Surface water is the source of drinking water, and 30 contaminants were detected from 2014 to 2020, with 13 exceeding EWG Health Guidelines. Tap water for this city was in compliance with federal health-based drinking water standards during the latest assessment from January 2021 to March 2021. Read more about violations in Ardmore here.

  1. Okmulgee, OK
  • Utility: Okmulgee
  • Population: 13,495
  • Violation Points: 133

The City of Okmulgee is east of Oklahoma City and about 38 miles south of Tulsa. The name Okmulgee is derived from the Muscogee word okimulgee, which translates to ‘boiling waters’, an apt name due to springs and rivers found nearby. Surface water is the source of drinking water, and 19 contaminants were detected from 2013 to 2019, with 10 exceeding EWG Health Guidelines. Tap water for this city was in compliance with federal health-based drinking water standards during the latest assessment from January 2021 to March 2021. Okmulgee received the most violation points due to a very high concentration of Haloacetic Acids and concentrations of Trihalomethanes that were over the legal limit. Additional violations may be included that are not accounted for. Read more about the Okmulgee violations here.

Conclusion

When reviewing both large and small utility violations in all 50 states, more consistent, higher violations were noted in the states of Oklahoma, California, and Texas. While everyone should prioritize water quality and invest in filtered water, residents in these states and the 10 cities listed above should regularly monitor the Tap Water Database to investigate their drinking water quality. Check out the EWG’s drinking water guide to find tips on how to ensure your drinking water is safe, healthy, and clean.

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