Planning a trip to the Big Apple? Or currently living in NYC and wondering whether it’s safe to cut your bottled water habit? In this guide, we’ll be sharing everything you need to know about the safety of New York City tap water.
📌 Key Takeaways
- New York’s tap water is safe to drink and considered high-quality compared to other states
- NYC water has still been reported to contain traces of lead, disinfection byproducts, and other pollutants
- The latest EWG assessment reports that tap water in the NYC system is in compliance with federal drinking water standards
Table of Contents
- 🌆 Does NYC Have High-Quality Tap Water?
- 🗺️ Where Does New York Tap Water Come From?
- 🔎 What Does NYC Tap Water Contain?
- 📉 Who Regulates NYC Tap Water?
- 🚰 Is NYC Public Water Safe to Drink?
- 🆚 How Does New York City Tap Water Compare to Bottled Water?
- 📤 Should You Filter Your NYC Tap Water?
- ❔ Is NYC Tap Water Safe to Drink? FAQ
🌆 Does NYC Have High-Quality Tap Water?
New York city’s drinking water is often referred to as the “champagne of tap waters” because it’s said to be better-quality than most other tap waters in the US.
It’s true that New York tap water is naturally high-quality – NYC is one of the few municipalities (along with Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Boston) that doesn’t filter its tap water.
Despite the lack of filtration, New York treatment plants still disinfect water with chlorine before distribution, causing chemical byproducts to be released into drinking water systems. New York’s buildings and waterways are also some of the oldest in America, which means that pipes and plumbing are prone to lead leaching. Nitrate and nitrate are also present in NYC tap water.
🗺️ Where Does New York Tap Water Come From?
New York tap water comes from 19 upstate reservoirs and three controlled lakes in the Croton watershed, the Catskill/Delaware watershed, or a combination of both sources. These reservoirs and lakes are spread across nearly 2,000 miles and are as far as 125 miles north of NYC.
📌 The Croton watershed provides only around 10% of the city’s water, while 90% of the water is sourced from the Catskill Mountains and the Deleware watershed.
This source water is so clean that New York is one of the few states that isn’t legally required to filter its drinking water (in fact, New York offers the largest unfiltered water system in the country).
NYC tap water is still chlorinated to kill potential pathogens, and ironically, the most problem-causing contaminants in the NYC watershed are byproducts of chemical disinfection.
🔎 What Does NYC Tap Water Contain?
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) highlights the contaminants detected in NCY tap water in the latest quarter assessment. 18 contaminants were detected, all within the “safe” range according to federal law. The EWG has its own guidelines for contaminants, and found that 10 of the 18 contaminants were present in levels that exceeded these guidelines.
The contaminants detected that exceed the EWG’s guidelines are:
- Disinfection byproducts: bromodichloromethane, bromoform, chloroform, dibromochloromethane, and dichloroacetic acid, haloacetic acids (HAA5)†, haloacetic acids (HAA9)†, total trihalomethanes, trichloroacetic acid
- Hexavalent chromium (chromium-6)
The contaminants detected in levels below the EWG guidelines are:
- Disinfection byproducts: chlorate, monochloroacetic acid
- Total chromium
What does this information tell us? That compared to other states, New York City has pretty decent-quality tap water.
The biggest issue with NCY tap water is its disinfection byproduct contamination (many disinfection byproducts are known to cause cancer).
NYC water also has traces of nitrate and nitrite, which have been linked to cancer, birth defects, and other adverse effects. Finally, hexavalent chromium in New York’s drinking water is known to cause cancer, reproductive effects, and kidney and liver damage with long-term exposure.
There are a couple of contaminants in New York City tap water – manganese and strontium – which aren’t thought to have human health effects, especially not at low levels.
📌 Aside from these detected contaminants, can you expect anything else in an NYC tap water supply? Yes – expect calcium and magnesium hardness minerals, as NYC’s drinking water is considered moderately hard. The New York City system also fluoridates its drinking water supply, so expect to find traces of fluoride in your water.
Keep in mind that lead – considered enough of a problem that the New York City Department of Health is currently offering free lead test kits to public drinking water customers – isn’t picked up in public water testing because it only enters water on its journey to peoples’ homes. Different parts of NYC have varying lead levels depending on the service lines they travel through to reach their destination.
You can find out what your local tap water in NYC contains by contacting your municipality and requesting a Water Quality Report or Consumer Confidence Report.
📉 Who Regulates NYC Tap Water?
New York’s drinking water is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which provides national guidelines that all municipalities in the US should adhere to.
The EPA has set National Primary Drinking Water Regulations for a range of contaminants known to have negative health effects in drinking water. All water facilities, including those in New York, are legally obliged to reduce their contaminants according to these regulations.
However, because NYC’s water is naturally low in contaminants anyway, the EPA doesn’t currently require the city to use a filtration plant to treat its water. Only disinfection is legally required – and NYC treats its water with chlorine, sodium hydroxide, orthophosphate, fluoride, and ultraviolet light.
Bottled water in New York is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which isn’t quite as stringent with its guidelines and doesn’t require bottled water manufacturers to disclose their testing data to customers.
🚰 Is NYC Public Water Safe to Drink?
Is NYC tap water safe to drink in hotels, restaurants, bars, and water fountains? Yes – and you shouldn’t find it difficult to get your hands on free tap water in a public place.
Restaurants aren’t required by law to serve free tap water to their customers. While most restaurants will do this, you may come across a server who refuses to offer free tap water. This is thankfully quite rare.
Make sure to tip the staff member who serves you water in a bar, even if you don’t order any other drinks or food.
Most hotels in New York have drinkable water in their rooms. If not, your hotel should have a bar or restaurant, or a drinking fountain, offering free water.
When you’re out and about in New York, you can use a bottle filling station or water fountain to fill your bottle. Most of these can be found in Brooklyn, and are provided for free by the City of New York. You’ll just need your own reusable bottle.
By 2025, New York plans to have 500 drinking water stations around the city, with the aim of reducing the use of single-use plastic bottles in the area.
🆚 How Does New York City Tap Water Compare to Bottled Water?
Bottled water varies widely in quality, which makes it difficult to compare to New York’s drinking water.
For instance, bottled water that has been purified and mineralized will likely have a better taste, and be safer to drink, than New York City’s tap water.
But some bottled water products are simply bottled tap water. In this case, you’ll get the same water quality from your own faucet, so you may as well save your money.
Bottled water manufacturers aren’t legally required to share their test results with customers, either, which means your bottled water could contain high levels of unwanted impurities, and you’d be none the wiser.
📌 It’s much better to drink tap water than to drink water from a single-use plastic bottle. Water from your tap can be filtered to improve its quality and taste, so there’s no need to contribute to plastic waste to stay hydrated.
If you want to know more about the general differences between bottled water and tap water, we’ve compared the two in this guide. 👈
📤 Should You Filter Your NYC Tap Water?
Is New York tap water safe to drink? Yes – you can usually drink tap water from New York without the risk of getting sick. But that’s not to say that NYC tap water is completely contaminant-free, and thousands of New Yorkers drink dangerously high levels of lead due to the abundance of lead pipes in the city.
So, there’s no obligation to filter your water in New York, but a water filtration system offers peace of mind that you’re not drinking lead, other heavy metals, and disinfection byproducts with known health issues.
Best Methods of Filtration for NYC’s Water
Some of the best water filter methods for NYC’s tap water are:
Best Overall: Reverse Osmosis
A reverse osmosis system uses a semi-permeable membrane to remove all contaminants larger than 0.0001 microns, including common New York water contaminants (lead, chlorine, byproducts, nitrate, nitrite, and fluoride). This method is the best way to remove all problem contaminants from your water, but it’s quite expensive. Reverse osmosis also wastes a small amount of water during filtration.
Most Affordable Option: Activated Carbon
Activated carbon filters are found in multi-stage drinking water systems, like under-sink and whole-home units, or are used in standalone systems, like water filter pitchers ad faucet filters. These filters use adsorption to trap chlorine and nearly all byproducts of disinfection. Activated carbon block filters, which consist of packed carbon granules with a pore size smaller than 1 micron, can also remove lead.
You don’t have to spend a fortune on a water filter to treat your tap water in New York. Some of the best water filters available today are pitcher filters, which typically cost less than $50 upfront and have a similar annual cost for filter replacements.
There are plenty of options for different situations and preferences. For instance, countertop units and pitchers are the best portable solution, while under-sink and whole-home units are more convenient and deliver faster results.
If you’re keen to learn more about the best water filters to remove lead from NYC drinking water, check out this review. 👈
❔ Is NYC Tap Water Safe to Drink? FAQ
Does New York have hard tap water?
Yes, New York’s drinking water is moderately hard or slightly hard, depending on whether it has been sourced from the Croton watershed or the Catskill/Delaware watershed. The average hardness of New York City’s water is 7 GPG, which is considered moderately hard. There are no dangers in drinking hard water, but water hardness is known to cause mineral spotting and damage pipes and appliances.
Is New York City’s water fluoridated?
Yes, the New York City system fluoridates its drinking water in accordance with Article 141.05 of the New York City Health Code. NYC has been fluoridating its water since 1996, adding up to 0.8 mg/L of fluoride to water supplies.
Is NYC tap water better than bottled water?
No, NYC tap water isn’t better than bottled water. Some bottled water products have been filtered and mineralized, and some bottled water is natural spring water. New York’s drinking water supply can’t be compared to natural spring water, and it isn’t filtered, so it contains more contaminants than the average bottled water product. Of course, this depends on the type of bottled water you buy – some bottled water is just commercially sold tap water.
Is NYC tap water contaminated?
NYC tap water is known to be contaminated with trace levels of disinfection byproducts, nitrates and nitrites, and chromium-6, but compared to other water supplies, NYC’s water is considered fairly clean. The biggest potential contaminant in New York’s water is lead. Even tiny amounts of lead are considered unsafe, but due to the old lead service lines in the city, lead exposure in NYC water is likely.
Can I drink the tap water in NYC?
Yes, you can drink the tap water in NYC. You may, however, choose to filter your water to remove potential contaminants and improve its taste.
How dirty is New York tap water?
New York’s tap water isn’t dirty at all. The water meets all federal standards (namely those set by the Environmental Protection Agency) and city standards for safety and cleanliness. If you notice that your water is brown or looks visibly dirty, the New York City Health Department advises that you stop drinking your water and contact your municipality.
Does NYC water need to be filtered?
No, NYC drinking water doesn’t usually need to be filtered. However, lead contamination in water is common due to poorly-maintained pipes. You can use a water filter to get peace of mind that your water is safe to drink.
Can you drink water in NYC hotels?
Yes, you can usually drink water in NCY hotels because most hotels use the city’s tap water supply. However, if your hotel has signs telling you that their water isn’t for drinking, you shouldn’t drink it. Look for a filtered water fountain or buy bottled water instead.
Is New York water the cleanest?
There’s no official data to prove that New York’s water is some of the cleanest in the world (although the NYC government is keen to get that message across). However, EWG testing and the city’s 2021 Water Quality Report show us that NYC drinking water is clean and, with the exception of Haloacetic Acid 5, doesn’t violate the EPA’s guidelines for the presence of dangerous contaminants.