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Miami-Dade has plenty to brag about: stellar beaches, celebrities who live in multimillion dollar mansions, four-star restaurants, the world famous tennis tournament on Key Biscayne and the national basketball champions the Miami Heat.
But a county document boasted about something far more ordinary when Mayor Carlos Gimenez released his budget proposal July 9. A budget-in-brief document written by the county’s Office of Management and Budget stated that the county has "the nation’s highest-rated tap water."
Do we have some sort of liquid gold pouring out of our faucets that is the envy of other counties nationwide? We went in search of answers to quench our curiosity.
Miami-Dade has long promoted tap water
First, let’s wade into the surprisingly controversial history of Miami-Dade county government talking up tap water.
In 2008, the county landed in hot water after it aired radio ads that boasted its tap water was better than bottled water.
Nestle Waters North America, which makes nearly $4 billion a year selling Zephyrhills and other brands, threatened to sue, the Miami Herald wrote. (It never did sue, a county spokeswoman told PolitiFact.)
The county continued to promote tap water, including a mock boxing match video between tap water and bottled water, a love song jingle "Miami-Dade tap water your No. 1!" and a video of a young cowboy asking Mom, "Howdy M'am? What do you have on tap?" She replied, "For you partner, I’ve got the original tap."
We asked a Miami-Dade county spokeswoman to explain the source of the claim that the county has the "nation’s highest-rated tap water."
We sensed some research percolating at Miami-Dade County Hall as spokespersons sent us emails saying we’d get an answer soon.
A few hours later, we had a reply: "It’s a scrivener’s error," said Jennifer L. Messemer, a spokeswoman in Miami-Dade’s water and sewer department.
Budget director Jennifer Moon told us in an email that "we compile input from the various departments to put in the budget-in-brief. We realized yesterday that we inadvertently left out 'one of' in the statement regarding the highest rated water. We will correct this online and in future prints."
(At PolitiFact we give props when someone fesses up to an error, but we continue our fact-check anyway.)
The error was in a document written by the budget department, according to Messemer. We did not find the same claim in other water-related documents. The full chapter on the water and sewer department’s budget proposal merely refers to the water as "high-quality drinking water." (It also mentions an upcoming $1.6 billion projected to fix environmental violations from failing wastewater infrastructure.)
The annual water quality report states that the water "is delicious and meets and exceeds all local, state and federal guidelines. So drink up with confidence!"
The county has received some kudos for water quality.
Messemer pointed to a 2008 Forbes.com’s Top 10 list of "Best Cities for Clean Drinking Water." The article, which ranked the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area fourth, was based on a 2007 water quality study compiled by University of Cincinnati researchers. (The report was sponsored by Proctor & Gamble.)
We found the most comprehensive water quality comparison in an analysis by the Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy organization that says the federal government’s standards for water quality fall short.
The group spent three years analyzing water contaminant data nationwide and found 316 contaminants. The EPA has enforceable standards for less than half of them.
Released in 2009, the database evaluated water utilities based on the total number of chemicals detected, the percentage of chemicals found of those tested; and the highest average level for a pollutant relative to legal limits or national averages. The analysis included the most common pollutants such as disinfection byproducts, nitrate and arsenic.
The group published a ranking of large cities, and Miami came in 46th place out of 100. (Several other large Florida cities or counties were listed, including Odessa, which is served by the St. Petersburg Water Resources Department, 20th; Pinellas County, 57th; Hillsborough County, 65th and Tampa, 68th.) You can read about government officials pushing back against the report in the Miami Herald.
A Miami-Dade County budget document claimed that the county has "the nation’s highest-rated tap water."
A county spokeswoman said that statement was an error. The water department more typically talks about the "high quality" of the water without making a national comparison.
An article in Forbes concluded the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area was fourth in water quality based on a 2007 University of Cincinnati study of 12 contaminants. A more thorough national analysis by the Environmental Working Group ranked Miami-Dade County at 46th in 2009.
The claim is wrong, but it isn’t so ridiculous to earn our lowest Pants on Fire rating. We’re still going to end with one more joke and pour a cold bucket of tap water to douse this claim. We rate this claim False.
Miami-Dade County, Budget-in-brief fiscal year 2013-14, July 9, 2013
Miami-Dade County, Fiscal year 2013-14 proposed budget and multi-year capital plan water and sewer, July 9, 2013
Miami Dade, "What’s on tap," 2012
Miami-Dade County video, "H2O Fights presents: tap water vs.bottled water," Aug. 18, 2010
Miami-Dade County video, "I love tap water jingle," May 16, 2011
Miami-Dade County video, "The original tap water," Oct. 13, 2011
Miami Herald, "Bottled water company objects to Miami-Dade water ads," Oct. 13, 2008
Miami Herald, "Report finds pollutants lurking in tap water," Dec. 27, 2009
Miami Herald, "Miami-Dade Commissioners approve spending $1.6 billion to fix water, sewer pipes," May 21, 2013
Washington Post, "Searching for mascot, D.C. water tests the competition," Feb. 17, 2013
Forbes, "Best cities for clean drinking water," April 14, 2008
University of Cincinnati, "United States Drinking Water Quality Study Report," March 13, 2007
Environmental Working Group, National drinking water database executive summary and big city water ratings, December 2009
American Water Works Association, "Oklahoma city wins Best of the Best tap water taste taste," June 11, 2013
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Disinfection biproducts: A reference resource, Accessed July 11, 2013
Interview, Deidre Mueller, spokeswoman for American Water Works Association, July 10, 2013
Interview, Stacy Kika, spokeswoman at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, July 10, 2013
Interview, Jennifer Messemer, spokeswoman for the Miami-Dade water and sewer department, July 10, 2013
Interview, Adriana Lamar, spokeswoman for the Miami-Dade water and sewer department, July 10, 2013
Interview, Jennifer Moon, Miami-Dade County Director for the Office of Management and Budget, July 11, 2013
Interview, Nneka Leiba, deputy director of research Environmental Working Group, July 10, 2013
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