Surveys of water consumption patterns in Canada and the USA show a high frequency of alternative water use, including bottled water and water treatment devices. An in-depth understanding of the public perception of municipal water would enable public health and water utility professionals better to address the needs of residents in their jurisdictions. We explored these perceptions and the self-described behaviour and needs of participants served by municipal water systems in the City of Hamilton, Ontario (Canada). We conducted three focus groups; two with men and women aged between 36 and 65 years, and one with men and women aged between 20 and 35 years. In general, participants expressed negative views of the municipal water supplied to their homes. Concerns included unpleasant sensory qualities of the water, perceived poor source-water protection, a perceived insufficiency in water treatment and testing and potential contamination along the distribution system. Reasons for alternative water use included perceived improvements in quality and safety over regular tap water, although convenience also contributed to bottled water use. Participants wanted more information on water testing and suggested a variety of dissemination approaches. This study suggested important lines of inquiry and action regarding the perception of municipal drinking water in this population.