Despite quality drinking water being a vital component of maintaining good health, drinking water quality varies across the country. Quality drinking water is essential to staying healthy, as drinking water prevents dehydration, helps transport nutrients and filter toxins, regulates your body temperature, and aids in digestion. Likewise, drinking contaminated water with unsafe levels of pollutants can lead to negative health effects like nervous or reproductive system issues, gastrointestinal illnesses, and chronic diseases, including cancer. To regulate drinking water quality and help combat contamination, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) in 1974. As the EPA collected information on public water systems, a database called the Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS) was developed to store public water system data. The SDWIS database is how we determined the top 10 cities (and surrounding areas served by the utility) in the U.S. with the best drinking water. Read on to learn more about the methodology used and about each city.
To determine the top 10 cities with the best water quality, we pulled a report from the online SDWIS database with data from the 3rd quarter of 2021, which was the most recent data available. All states and public water systems serving 100,000 people or more were selected to be included in the report. For this study, we chose to leave out utilities with less than 100,000 people to focus on larger cities and their surrounding areas. From this list of larger cities, we pulled only the public water systems that had zero reported violations. These public water systems with zero violations were sorted from largest to smallest, which resulted in the below list. The Monroe County Water Authority, servicing a population of 496,753 in the Monroe and Orleans Counties in New York, is an honorable mention and is not listed as a top city because this public water system serves over 30 towns and cities. While the SDWIS is categorized by public water system rather than a city, if the public water system served more than one city, we chose the largest city to represent the public water system on our list. Below are the cities and associated surrounding areas that have the best water quality in the United States.
10. Spring Valley, California (San Diego County)
- Public Water System (PWS): Otay Water District
- Population of PWS: 225,870
Spring Valley is one of six communities served by the Otay Water District. Spring Valley is a census-designated area with a population of around 28,000, but many residents still consider the neighboring area of La Presa part of Spring Valley, which bumps the population up to 62,000 residents. It resides within San Diego County and is near the U.S.-Mexican international border. Spring Valley was named for the natural spring located in the area. The Otay Water District currently has 41 water facilities and is located in EPA’s Region 9 area.
9. El Monte, California (Los Angeles County)
- Public Water System (PWS): San Gabriel Valley Water Company
- Population of PWS: 237,000
El Monte and the surrounding areas, including South El Monte, Hacienda Heights, and Whittier, are served by the San Gabriel Valley Water Company. The San Gabriel Valley Water Company has around 100 water facilities and is also located in EPA’s Region 9. As of 2019, El Monte was the 54th largest city in California, resides between the San Gabriel and Rio Hondo Rivers, and is historically called “The End of the Santa Fe Trail”.
8. Huntsville, Alabama (Madison County)
- Public Water System (PWS): Huntsville Utilities
- Population of PWS: 262,155
The City of Huntsville is located in the Appalachian area of north Alabama. Huntsville Utilities serves Madison County with 92 water facilities and is located in EPA Region 4. Known as “Rocket City”, Huntsville is the site of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, the United States Army Aviation and Missile Command, and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.
7. El Cajon, California (San Diego County)
- Public Water System (PWS): Helix Water District
- Population of PWS: 277,294
El Cajon, La Mesa, Lemon Grove, and parts of Spring Valley comprise the Helix Water District. The Helix Water District has around 30 water facilities and is in EPA Region 9. El Cajon is a 10-minute drive north of Spring Valley, CA, and has a population of a little over 100,000. El Cajon translates to “the box”, and takes its name from Rancho El Cajon, which had been named for the box shape of the valley surrounding the area.
6. Richmond, VA (Henrico and Chesterfield Counties)
- Public Water System (PWS): Chesterfield Central Water System
- Population of PWS: 320,658
While Chesterfield Central Water System serves surrounding communities as well, Richmond is the water system’s largest customer. Chesterfield Central Water System has 53 facilities and is in EPA Region 3. The City of Richmond is known for maintaining a robust array of historical knowledge, particularly with the Civil War, which can be found within local museums, statues, cemeteries, and other memorials. Richmond is located near the James River and has a population of around 226,000.
5. St. Petersburg, Florida (Pinellas County)
- Public Water System (PWS): City of St. Petersburg Utilities
- Population of PWS: 347,050
The City of St. Petersburg Utilities operates 50 facilities in EPA’s Region 4 area. Located on Florida’s gulf coast, St. Petersburg is part of the Tampa Bay area and is known for pleasant weather. Known as “The Sunshine City”, St. Petersburg holds the title of most consecutive days of sunshine and is home to the world-famous Salvador Dali Museum and award-winning beaches.
4. St. Paul, Minnesota (Ramsey County)
- Public Water System (PWS): Saint Paul Regional Water Services
- Population of PWS: 399,654
Saint Paul Regional Water Services is the drinking water utility for the City of St. Paul and its surrounding suburbs, is located in EPA Region 5, and operates 23 facilities. St. Paul is the capital of Minnesota and is located along the Mississippi River in southeast Minnesota, close to the Wisconsin state line. Minneapolis and St. Paul are commonly known as the Twin Cities. St. Paul is home to the world’s largest hockey mural, a testament to the popularity of hockey in the area.
3. Cincinnati, Ohio (Hamilton County)
- Public Water System (PWS): Cincinnati Public Water System
- Population of PWS: 750,200
Serving Cincinnati and the surrounding area, Cincinnati Public Water System is in EPA Region 5 and has 89 facilities in operation. Cincinnati is the third-largest city in Ohio, and the Cincinnati metropolitan area is the largest metropolitan area in Ohio. Cincinnati is in southwest Ohio along the Ohio River and close to the Kentucky state line. The city was first pioneered by Macedonian restauranteurs in the 1920s and is known as the “Chili Capital of America”.
2. San Francisco, California (San Francisco County)
- Public Water System (PWS): San Francisco Public Utilities Commission
- Population of PWS: 884,363
The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) is in EPA Region 9 and operates 17 water facilities. SFPUC is a public agency of the City and County of San Francisco and provides electric, water, and wastewater services to San Francisco and surrounding community residents. The San Francisco Bay Area is located in northern California and is known for its electric mix of architecture, including the Golden Gate Bridge.
1. Alexandria, Virginia (Fairfax and Arlington Counties)
- Public Water System (PWS): Fairfax County Water Authority
- Population of PWS: 1,074,422
Serving the largest community by population with zero public water system violations, the Fairfax County Water Authority serves the Fairfax and Alexandria area, is in EPA Region 3, and has 74 water facilities. Located on the Potomac River, the City of Alexandria is just south of Washington, DC and is known for its lively Old Town with many well-preserved 18th and 19th century buildings. Alexandria was also George Washington’s hometown and includes places like Gadsby’s Tavern Museum that were frequented by some of America’s founding fathers.
All the top 10 cities above are served by public water systems that received zero violations from the EPA for drinking water. It is important to note there are other public water systems that received zero violations, but we focused on the public water systems serving the largest populations. To check the number of violations in your area, you can search using the same tool we utilized – the SDWIS database. Even with zero violations, it is still important to use filtered water and actively monitor water quality reports for your area. Government regulations can be slow to accommodate new research and understanding of water contaminants and investing in filters for water helps ensure your exposure to contaminants is reduced.