If you live in Nevada or are just visiting for a holiday, it’s important to know if the tap water is safe to drink. Tap water in Nevada can contain contaminants that are often, but not always, in high concentrations.
The tap water in Nevada is currently considered safe to drink, because contaminant levels are below the legal limit set by the EPA. However, arsenic, copper and lead have been recorded at unsafe levels in several communities and are a major concern.
The quality of tap water varies depending on not only where you live or where you are staying, but where your water comes from, and what the pipes are made of. Keep reading to find out everything about Nevada tap water, what makes it safe to drink (and when it hasn’t been), differences between cities, where the water comes from, and what the main contaminants of concern are.
Is the tap water safe to drink in Nevada?
Nevada tap water is technically safe to drink as long as the contaminants in the water are below the concentration levels that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets in line with federal legislation.
However, organisations like the Environmental Working Group (EWG) say the federal drinking water standards are inadequate and outdated.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 think the limits for many contaminants are too weak, and suggest tap water that is considered ‘safe’ to drink, is anything but!
The community and public water systems in Nevada do their best to treat the water and remove contaminants. However, because some contaminants can remain in the water, the water systems monitor the water before it reaches our taps – All to make sure it meets the federal standards and is ‘safe’ for people to drink!
The contaminants of greatest concern in Nevada are:
Arsenic is a naturally occurring element that is found in rocks and is only toxic at high levels. The EPA says that arsenic typically makes its way into our water supply from the natural erosion of rocks.
In Nevada, arsenic is typically found in the water sourced from groundwater, this includes not only city waters supplies, but also private or domestic wells.
Approximately 30% of Nevada get their water from groundwater that is naturally high in arsenic
Towards the end of 2019, 14 public water systems had unsafe levels of arsenic.
- Most of the communities affected were small, with populations under 100.
- The largest community affected was the 1310 people serviced by the Canyon GID in Lockwood.
- The small community serviced by the Old Forty West Motel, in Washoe County, had the highest levels of Arsenic – They were drinking water with arsenic more than 6 times the safe legal limit!
Copper and Lead
Copper and lead have historically been a problem in Nevada’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 Nevada’s tap water are
In general, in Nevada copper is less of an issue compared to lead.
At the end of 2019, just 1 Nevada water system reported high concentrations of copper in the water – luckily the water system services just 40 people in Mt. Rose Bowl (…but, unlucky if you live in Mt. Rose Bowl).
Lead levels must remain below 0.015mg/L, before action is required by law to lower it. While the vast majority of Nevada has low (safe) levels of lead, there are some locations that have recorded really high levels.
Which areas? I hear you ask!
Well, if you are a resident it isn’t so bad, but if you are a tourist, you may want to rethink drinking the tap water when visiting Kyle Canyon or Signature Towers, Las Vegas.
According to the Nevada Division of Environment Protection (NDEP), Signature Towers water system recorded lead levels of 0.038mg/L in 2019, thats more than double the action level!
A word of warning – these contaminant levels are for water systems that are required to report their water quality. Since lead leaches from household pipes into tap water, you can find out what your pipes are made of and have your own water tested if you are concerned.
There have also been issues with the following contaminants:
- Radionuclides (e.g. Uranium)
- Total Coliform
Luckily, in recent years these contaminants have only been recorded at high levels in a few small Nevada communities, where water systems service populations of less than 100 people. These issues are typically fixed quickly.
In general, Nevada tap water is safe to drink. But, it really does depend where you live and which water system treats your water supply. Here is some information about the water quality in Nevada’s 3 biggest cities:
The tap water in Las Vegas is considered safe to drink… that is, according to the contaminant levels recorded at most water systems in 2019.
While arsenic, lead, radionuclides and trihalomethanes were all technically under the legal limit in the 2018 water quality report, they were still present in some high concentrations at particular water stations. Thankfully, it seems these water systems fixed their problems, with no reports of arsenic, radionuclides or trihalomethanes in high concentrations at the end of 2019.
Lead, on the other hand, was recorded at more than double the action limit at the Signature Towers water system in 2019… this is likely due to lead leaching from old pipes.
According to the NDEP, consumers were notified in July 2019, and public education was scheduled for November 2019. Hopefully, this is a problem of the past – but if you are planning a visit, maybe a portable water filter might be a good idea!
Remember, overall the tap water in Las Vegas is safe to drink. The Las Vegas Valley Water District says
If you are a resident of Henderson you can breathe a sigh of relief.
The tap water in Henderson is safe to drink. At the end of 2019, the only contaminant that was of any concern in Henderson, was trihalomethanes – and even then, the average annual concentration was not above the Maximum Contaminant Level set by the EPA.
No other contaminants were reported above the legal limits.
Remember, Trihalomethanes form when chlorine (or chloramine), used by the water treatment plant to disinfect our drinking water, combines with natural organic materials.
Do you live in Reno? Well, lucky you!
The tap water in Reno is safe to drink. The Truckee Meadows Water Authority (TMWA) that supplies water to more than 400,000 residents in Reno, Sparks and other areas of Washoe County, typically records good drinking water.
Occasionally, TMWA has reported elevated levels of arsenic and nitrates, but even when elevated these are still well below the safe legal limit.
Unfortunately, contaminants are not the only reason the tap water in Nevada may be unsafe to drink. Many water systems do not complete the required maintenance and repairs following issues discovered during inspections. According to the NDEP…
That means, not only might there be unsafe levels of concentrations in the water, but also that the water system isn’t fixing the problem!
According to the NDEP website, these water systems did not keep up to date with their maintenance and repairs in 2019:
|Clark||Apex Regional Waste Management Center|
|Desert Paradise MHP|
|Nye||Beatty RV Park|
|Rancho Vista 4|
|Pershing||Rye Patch State Park|
|Rye Patch State Park Picnic Area|
|Silver Knolls Mutual Water Company|
|Washoe Valley Christian Church|
So, is the water safe to drink from these water systems? I’ll leave that up to you to decide!
Historic problems with Nevada’s drinking water
According to the Las Vegas Review Journal, the students of Amargosa Valley boarding school were served bottled water, while the school treated its water for high levels of arsenic and fluoride. The water is sourced from a well, which recorded the following alarming concentrations:
- Arsenic levels at 0.032 mg/L – three times the EPA’s recommended 0.01 mg/L
- Fluoride levels at 2.9 mg/L – the U.S. EPA’s recommendation is no more than 2.0 mg/L
At an abandoned mine in Mason Valley, some 65km southwest of Reno, a well recorded uranium levels of 3.4 mg/L – more than 100 times the legal limit.
According to the Las Vegas Review journal, the EPA found 79% of wells that were located north of the abandoned mine had dangerously unsafe levels of arsenic and uranium.
There was a great deal of debate over whether the uranium came from mining pollution or if it was leached from rocks naturally high in uranium.
Apparently, Nevada had the worst arsenic contamination in the country — an average of almost 0.012 mg/L. Remembering that – the EPA recommends 0.01 mg/L, in line with federal drinking laws.
Fallon was known as the arsenic capital of America, according to the Los Angeles Times. In 2001:
- Fallon tap water contained about 0.09mg/L arsenic – nine times the EPA’s recommended 0.01 mg/L
- The EPA ordered Fallon to reduce its arsenic levels in half by September 2003 or face fines of $27,500 a day!
According to the NDEP, perchlorate entered the Las Vegas Wash through contaminated groundwater and surface water stemming from Kerr-McGee, a manufacturing facility near Henderson.
Perchlorate is an ingredient in rocket propellant, fireworks and flares.
By 2019, more than 6,320 tons of perchlorate had been removed from Southern Nevada. The contamination was reduced from 1.2mg/L in 1998 to just 0.053mg/L in 2019 – the EPA is considering introducing a perchlorate limit of 0.056mg/L.
Where does Nevada water come from?
Nevada is the driest state in the United States, but the majority of Nevada’s water supply comes from the surface water in Nevada’s rivers. Most of Nevada’s water supply is taken from Lake Mead.
Lake Mead is the man-made lake that was built to store water captured from the Colorado River. Interestingly, Lake Mead is the largest water reservoir in the United States, formed following the construction of Hoover Dam.
The rest of Nevada, about 30%, source their water from groundwater – stored in aquifers deep underground. The groundwater is extracted from the Basin and Range Aquifers that stretch across not only Nevada, but also parts of California, Idaho, Oregon, and Utah.
Is Nevada water hard or soft?
Nevada’s water isn’t just hard, it’s VERY HARD!
Most water in Nevada is high in calcium and magnesium. Nearly 70% of Nevada’s water is sourced from the Colorado River, which is naturally high in calcium and magnesium.
It is high mineral content that makes Nevada’s water very hard (Yes, this is actually a separate category above hard water).
Community and public water systems treat Nevada’s drinking water and remove any contaminants, but they do not remove minerals from the water.
This means the calcium and magnesium are still in your tap water – especially in the Las Vegas Valley, where almost 90% of the tap water is sourced from the Colorado River’s hard water.
Does Nevada water have fluoride?
Some, but not all, of Nevada has fluoride added to it’s water. The fluoride is added to help improve the dental (oral) health of the general public. In truth, some counties do not add fluoride at all, while other counties add fluoride in some areas and not others – and there is not one county in Nevada that has fluoride added to all of its tap water.
The Nevada State Health Department and the Nevada division of Environment Protection regulate the amount of fluoride added to Nevada’s drinking water. Yet, not all counties have fluoridated water – in fact most don’t.
These counties don’t add any fluoride to their tap water:
- Carson City
- White Pine
These other counties have fluoride added to their tap water, but only in some areas:
For a full list of water systems within these counties that DO add fluoride to the tap water, check out the list below!
|County||Public water system|
|Churchill||City of Fallon|
|South Maine (MHP)|
|Tolas Park (MHP)|
|Fallon Naval Air Station|
|Ember Mobile Manor|
|Clark||City of Henderson|
|Desert Paradise MHP|
|Equestrian Estates Coop Water Association|
|Frontier Village LLC|
|Hitchin Post Motel and RV Park|
|Hoover Dam Lodge DBA Hacienda|
|Las Vegas Valley Water District|
|Moapa Valley Water District|
|Nellis Air Force Base|
|North Las Vegas Utilities|
|NPS Boulder Beach|
|NPS Las Vegas Bay|
|Searchlight Water Company|
|SNWA Coyote Spring Valley-Moapa PWS|
|Spirit Mountain Utility|
|Southern Nevada Water System|
|Sunrise Mountain TP|
|Roark Estates Water Association|
|Tropicana Resort and Casino|
|Vans Trailer Oasis|
|Douglas||Elk Point Country Club|
|Elko||Mountain City Water System|
|Esmeralda||Silverpeak Water System|
|Lander||Lander County Sewer and Water District|
|Lincoln||Alamo Sewer and Water GID|
|Caliente Public Utilities|
|Panaca Farmstead Water Association|
|Lyon||Crystal Clear Water Company|
|Smith Valley Water System|
|Mineral||Hawthorne Army Ammo Depot|
|Walker Lake Apartments|
|Walker Lake GID|
|Nye||Amargosa Valley Water Association|
|Beatty Water and Sanitation District|
|Gabbs Water System|
|Tonopath Consevation Camp NDOC|
|Tonopath Public Utilities|
Does Las Vegas use recycled water? Las Vegas uses recycled water – but not for drinking! The water from the toilets and drains of Las Vegas are treated at the Clark County Water Reclamation District. This recycled water is reused on golf courses, in air conditioners and car washes of Las Vegas, with some making its way back into the environment.
Does Las Vegas water have chlorine? The Las Vegas Valley Water District and Southern Nevada Water Authority add chlorine to the drinking water of Las Vegas. The chlorine is used to disinfect the water of Las vegas and make it safe to drink.