Does New York City Have the Highest Quality Water in America?

Does America’s largest city have the highest quality water among large metros in the United States? The city seems to think so, and there is a body of data that makes the claim at least reasonable.

The water quality problem has been front and center in the news because of the Flint, Mich., scandal. Several other cities have been noted for water quality conditions since then. The city water quality debate, and fixes for cities with real problems, have years to run.

Management at the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, on the other hand, makes an affirmative statement:

New York City drinking water is world-renowned for its quality. Each day, more than 1 billion gallons of fresh, clean water is delivered from large upstate reservoirs—some more than 125 miles from the City—to the taps of nine million customers throughout New York state.

The assertion has its basis in the belief that it is very hard to supply high-quality water to 9 million people. Doing it for fewer people would be easy.

The National Drinking Water Database shows that among America’s huge cities, New York has the highest rating. It used three measures:

  • Total number of chemicals detected since 2004.
  • Percentage of chemicals found of those tested for. Some states did not provide data on the full range of chemicals tested for but not detected. For purposes of these rankings, EWG assumed that utilities tested for the 80 contaminants regulated by EPA whenever fewer than that number were reported.
  • The highest average level for an individual pollutant relative to either:
    • legal limits (for regulated chemicals), or,
    • national average concentrations (for unregulated chemicals). We computed national average concentrations using data from utilities that reported detecting the compound.

New York City ranked 13 among 100 cities. However, the city has more than one water system. Its second one received a rank of 41. A split decision.

New York City does have one thing going for it. The city is not on any list of poor quality water, which is a poor way to make a claim. However, with so many cities with polluted water, a negative becomes a positive.

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