Florida tap water ranks 2nd worst in the country, with residents frequently exposed to unsafe drinking water. While the amount of pollutants in Florida’s water supply varies, they are often found in high concentrations.
Florida tap water is considered safe to drink because contaminant levels are below the legal limit in all counties. However, arsenic, copper, lead and trihalomethanes are a major concern and have been recorded at unsafe levels in several cities.
The tap water in Florida varies depending on where you live and where your water comes from, and even what your pipes are made of. Check out the information below for everything you need to know about Florida’s tap water.
Is the tap water safe to drink in Florida?
Florida tap water is safe to drink….. for now!
Florida tap water is technically safe to drink when contaminants in the water are below the concentration levels that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets in line with federal legislation.
Although, organisations like the Environmental Working Group (EWG) say the federal drinking water standards are inadequate and outdated.
Despite amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act in 2018, the EWG and others think the limits for many contaminants are too weak, and suggest tap water that is considered ‘safe’ to drink, is anything but.
While the community and public water systems in Florida do their best to treat the water and remove contaminants, some remain in the system.
The contaminants that are the biggest concern in Florida are:
- Trihalomethanes (THHMs)
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), arsenic is a known toxic pollutant. But in reality, arsenic is also a naturally occurring element that is found in rocks and is only toxic at high levels.
The EPA says that arsenic can make its way into our water supply from the natural erosion of rocks.
Most of Florida’s tap water comes from groundwater, which means arsenic from the surrounding rocks can make its way into the water.
So while arsenic is of concern because it is in Florida’s water supply, it is not found in the tap water in high enough concentrations to make it unsafe to drink.
Copper and Lead
Copper and lead are a problem in Florida’s water supply. In fact, these metals are found in the pipes of many homes.
The EPA says the main sources of copper and lead in Florida’s tap water are
Any copper or lead found in the original water supply is removed by the community and public water systems.
However, once the water leaves the water systems it can pick up contaminants from whatever it flows through. Remembering that Florida’s household plumbing contains copper and lead, your own pipes could be making your tap water high in both metals – and you would not even know it!
Trihalomethanes are a byproduct of drinking water disinfection. What does that actually mean? – It means that the chlorine (or chloramine) used by water systems to disinfect our drinking water, can combine with natural organic materials to make trihalomethanes.
Unfortunately, ingestion of trihalomethanes in your water can put your health at risk. The EPA says that trihalomethanes can potentially cause the following health effects:
Most of the time the amount of trihalomethanes in water is low… well below the legal limit
. So, most of the time the tap water in Florida is safe to drink.
But, there have been instances, especially in Fort Lauderdale, where trihalomethanes may have exceeded the legal limit.
Fort Lauderdale uses chlorine twice a year to conduct a “chlorine burn”, for 5 weeks at a time. During these periods, the water systems use much greater amounts of chlorine than would normally be used to disinfect water.
This large amount of chlorine is capable of combining with organic materials in the water to make trihalomethanes.
Even worse, the Department of Health in Broward county apparently told media outlet WLRN that it does not test the water during these “chlorine burns”. Without testing there is no way of knowing how high the concentration of trihalomethanes could be – or whether it is safe to drink!
In general, Florida tap water is safe to drink. But, it really does depend where you live. Here is some information about the water quality in Florida’s 4 biggest cities:
Thankfully, the levels of arsenic, copper and lead are all below the safe legal limit in Jacksonville’s tap water.
Unfortunately, the concentration of trihalomethanes in Jacksonville was above the safe legal limit in 2018, 2017 and 2016. The amount of trihalomethane in the tap water at Jacksonville tested up to 34% higher than the legal limit in 2018, and up to 23% higher in 2017 and 2016.
While the EPA requires the water systems to take action and prevent these high concentrations, it doesn’t mean that it can be fixed right away – which is clearly the case since Jacksonville had high trihalomethanes in the water for at least 3 years.
In general, the water in Miami is considered safe to drink.
Miami is serviced by 4 main water systems, and while 3 of 4 produce water that is safe to drink, 1 water system has released water that is high in copper – so high that it exceeds the limit set by the EPA!.
This water supply (Redavo) services the small area bounded by Southwest 288th Street to Southwest 296th Street between Southwest 184 Court to Southwest 189th Avenue.
Orlando tap water is safe to drink – all contaminants tested over the last 3 years have been within safe limits. Which is great news!
But, a word of warning – in 2016, 2017 and 2018 the concentration of trihalomethanes was not above safe limits, but it was very close. The legal limit is 80 parts per billion (ppb), and the concentration in Orlando’s tap water was in the 70’s – in one instance it was 77ppb.
That is a bit close for comfort.
Do you live in Tampa? Congratulations, if you do!
The tap water in Tampa is safe to drink. The concentrations of all contaminants tested, including arsenic, copper, lead and trihalomethanes, are below the legal limits. – And have been for at least the last 3 years!
Why does Florida tap water smell bad (and taste bad)?
The tap water in Florida can taste or smell bad because of contaminants in the water. Chlorine, metals and sulfate are responsible for most of the bad odors and tastes in Florida water..
Even though Florida tap water will taste, smell and look differently depending on where you are, the most common complaints are:
- Rotten egg smell and taste
- Metallic taste
- Salty taste
According to the American Water Works Association consumer guide “Taste at the Tap”, different contaminants in your tap water can make water taste salty, bitter or even metallic.
The EPA sets two types of guidelines for community and public water systems that are for different reasons:
- Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL)
- Secondary Maximum Contaminant Levels (SCML)
If a contaminant exceeds the maximum value (MCL) it can be a risk to human health. Whereas, the secondary level (SCML) of a contaminant helps community and public water systems monitor how the water looks, smells and tastes. The EPA says..
But, the water systems are not required to keep the contaminants below these SCML levels. It is just advice! So that means your water could look, smell or taste funny because of one (or more) of these contaminants.
If your water tastes bad – See the table below for a list of the different tastes you could be experiencing in Florida and the possible causes.
|pH – Low (<6.5)||Bitter, Metallic|
|pH – High (>8.5)||Soda taste, slippery|
|Sulfate||Salty, or rotten egg|
|Total dissolved solids (TDS)||Salty|
If your water looks odd it may be the result of:
- Dissolved organic materials
- High disinfectant use (e.g. chlorine)
- Inadequate water treatment
But, if its the smell of your water that is a bit funny, it could be because of one of the following in your water:
- Foaming agents (e.g. detergents)
If you want to improve the look, smell or taste of your tap water then the EPA suggests using a water purification system.
The EPA document “Water on tap: What you need to know” says distillation, filtration, ion exchange and reverse osmosis are some of the systems available for the home. If you would like more information you can access their document here.
Where does Florida tap water come from?
Tap water in Florida comes from underground aquifers, also known as groundwater.
Florida’s water source is naturally stored deep underground, in between layers of rock and sediment, like clay. The water is replenished whenever rain penetrates the ground and slowly filters down through the layers.
The water can stay underground for a very long time.
Scientists have dated the water in the Floridian aquifer to between 17 years and 26,000 years. So, the water that is used for most of Florida’s drinking water can be up to 26,000 years old!
Since the water used in Florida has been stored between rocks it can have high amounts of metals or other contaminants.
The community and public water systems treat the water to make sure the contaminant levels are low enough to not be a risk to human health, but also so that the water doesn’t look, smell or taste bad!
Why is Florida tap water yellow?
South Florida tap water is often yellow.
The tap water in South Florida comes from the groundwater in the shallow Biscayne Aquifer. The Biscayne Aquifer has tannins in it that give Florida water a yellow tinge. The tannins are from organic material, like bark, pine needles or decomposing leaf litter, in the water.
Community and public water systems treat the water and remove most of the organic material. But some organic material and tannins survive the treatment process, and the treated water is tinged yellow. This water can then make it’s way into the homes of South Florida residents.
Fortunately, the majority of Florida gets their water from a different aquifer, the Floridian. The Floridian Aquifer is deeper underground and does not have the same tannins, so most water in Florida is not yellow.
Does Florida tap water have chlorine?
Several counties in Florida have chlorine in their tap water. The chlorine is added by community and public water systems to disinfect the water to make sure it is safe for drinking.
However, many counties in Florida are now switching from chlorine to chloramine. This is to make sure the counties meet the new federal water quality standards.
Chloramine is a combination of chlorine and ammonia, and isn’t supposed to change how water tastes as much as chlorine does. Chloramine also doesn’t combine with organic material to produce trihalomethanes, in the same way that chlorine does.
In Florida, at least 30 water systems already add chloramine to their tap water. Major areas including Ft. Myers and Miami-Dade already use chloramine. In fact, Tampa has used chloramine since the 1980’s!
Not only is Florida’s drinking water either subjected to chlorination or chloramination, but the Florida Department of Environment Protection says that the vast majority of wastewater is also chlorinated.
Chlorine is certainly a strong disinfectant!
Does Florida tap water have fluoride?
Most of Florida’s tap water is fluoridated, with 77% of residents receiving fluoridated water. The community and public water systems in Florida add fluoride to the water to help improve the dental (oral) health of the general public.
Some counties also have naturally occurring fluoride. These include:
- Santa Rosa
- St Johns
But, most of Florida have fluoride added artificially to their water. According to the Florida Department of Health:
However, some water systems do not add fluoride to the water. As of 2017, these Florida counties did not have fluoridated water:
Can you get brain eating amoeba from the tap water in Florida? Florida has the second greatest number of amoeba-causing brain infections in the U.S. The brain infection called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) is caused by the brain-eating amoeba N. Fowleri, and has caused 35 cases of infection since 1962. Community and public water systems remove most contaminants from your tap water, but amoeba can still live and grow in places where water disinfection is reduced. Read more information about amoeba in tap water and how to remove them.
Why is Florida tap water green? The tap water in Florida can only be green because of two reasons – A buildup of blue-green algae in the water system or corroded copper from household pipes can turn tap water green. Both are causes of concern and should be fixed immediately.
Is Florida water hard or soft? Most of Florida’s water supply is hard water. The groundwater sourced from the Floridian aquifer is stored deep underground between carbonate rocks. These rocks leak calcium and magnesium into the water, giving the water high mineral content. It is the high mineral content that makes Florida’s water hard.