IEUA blacklists salt-based water softeners -
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin-6/6/10
By Mediha Fejzagic DiMartino

Dennis Levens took everything with a grain of salt.

In return, his showers were sudsier, household plumbing was scale-free and washing laundry required less detergent.

But when a local water agency offered him a rebate to get rid of his salt-based water softener, Levens of Rancho Cucamonga didn't think twice.

"It was seven years old, and I was about to replace it anyway and get something more efficient," he said.

Citing the need to protect the local water supply, the Inland Empire Utilities Agency is looking into ways to wean homeowners like Levens from bags of salt they feed their automatic water softeners each month.

"(They) pose a major threat to our water supplies because of the huge amounts

A Culligan delivery driver drops off a salt-based water-softening tank at a Claremont home last week. (Mediha Fejzagic DiMartino/Staff Photographer)

of salt they discharge into the sewage treatment system," IEUA's board member John Anderson said.

"It's a big water quality problem especially for places like the Chino Basin where we depend upon our groundwater and recycled water supplies to meet our water needs."

The agency's plan may include partnering up with its service cities and implementing ordinances that would ban installation of any new salt-based water softeners and give incentives to existing users to switch to a salt-free system, said Martha Davis, IEUA's executive manager for policy development.

A similar move saved Santa Clarita $110 million because it did not have to install expensive salt removal technologies at its sewage treatment pants, the agency said.

"Hard" water contains a lot of calcium and magnesium, said Grant Shaw, a general manager for Culligan's Inland Empire region. Softeners direct the water flow through a resin which extracts those minerals. Salt is used to regenerate the resin periodically and the residual, filled with sodium and chlorides, ends up in the sewer lines.

Residential water softeners use on average of 30 pounds of salt per month and contribute 10 percent of all salt in the sewer system, Davis said.

"Our water supply will be so much more limited in the future," she said. "We made a huge investment to be able to use recycled water, and it's sensitive to amount of salt that's in it.

"It's not the water softener, it's the salt that goes into our sewer system. We want to make sure they use the right kind of equipment. There is a lot of new technology out there."

But some say getting rid of salt-based water softeners is like trading one problem for another.

"You are trading saltcity with increased use of detergents and energy waste," said Eric Rosenthal, Culligan's senior vice president of marketing. "It's not a free ride."

Having soft water allows entire household to operate more chemically-free.

"You use less detergents to get things clean," Rosenthal said. "Sediments created by magnesium and calcium stick to the heating elements and increase costs of heating the appliance by 25 percent. First you have to heat the rock and then the water."

Energy efficiency has placed water softeners into Green Plumbing and Mechanical Code, said Lori Roman, a president of the Salt Institute, a non-profit salt industry trade association.

"California's drought has exacerbated the issue," Roman said. "I don't see this as a trend that would affect salt industry greatly. It's peculiar to California only. People are throwing around figures but there aren't any reliable studies to back up this alarm."

According to Salt Institute, after China, the U.S. is the world's second largest salt producer. More than 3 million tons of water conditioning salt was sold in 2009 bringing in $439 million. Salt for human consumption accounted for half as much - 1.4 million tons.

Imposing the ordinance could wipe out 30 to 40 percent of Culligan's business, Shaw said. The company sells salt-based automatic water softeners which, depending on their capacity, can run anywhere from $999 to $4,000.

Culligan also offers soft water tanks rental and delivery service which on average cost $35 a month with an additional $125 for start up.

The second option is hailed by IEUA as more environmentally responsible - the tanks are switched out each month at the consumer's residence and then regenerated at the company's plant in Ontario. The residual is then dumped into a "brine line," and has virtually no contact with the regular sewer line.

The company is ready for what may be coming down the line - either shift to portable exchange on larger scale or selling more efficient automatic softeners.

After getting rid of his salt-based water softener, Levens said he is not happy with what is out there in terms of alternate technology.

"There is really nothing out there that works quite as well as salt," he said.

But Davis is not discouraged.

"Public is slowly recognizing that this is sensitive issue for the environment," she said. "Recycling was in the same place 15 years ago."#

Council to consider asking for salt strategy
Santa Clarita Valley Signal-6/7/10
By Natalie Everett

The Santa Clarita City Council will consider Tuesday night asking the local sanitation district to develop a political strategy, and potentially a legal strategy, to change the state-set salt limits.

Santa Clarita Valley property owners are faced with rising sewer rates despite residents' proactive move of taking salt-based water softeners out of their homes in 2008. Now, the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District has proposed a 50-percent rate increase, bringing monthly rates from $16.58 per month to $24.67 per month at the end of a four-year period.

Half the increase would go toward ongoing expenses. The other half would pay for a $210 million salt-removal treatment system that many Santa Clarita Valley residents see as unnecessary and unfair.

Santa Clarita Valley's salt limit is set at 117 milligrams per liter. It's an unusually low number that accommodates Ventura County's salt-sensitive avocado and strawberry crops, which are downstream along the Santa Clara River. The limit was set by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, the local arm of the State Water Resources Control Board. This state board administers the Clean Water Act.

At the council's last meeting, council members expressed frustration that despite the community's best effort, it can't shake the costly chloride removal treatment system. Removing water softeners brought the area's salt levels from 190 to 130 milligrams per liter. Currently, though, the water has just 80 milligrams of salt per liter. Only during droughts does the Santa Clarita Valley exceed the limit.

That's why Mayor Laurene Weste wants to seek drought relief from the state.

"We can't control the weather," she said.

Weste sits on the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District Board along with Councilwoman Marsha McLean and a Los Angeles County Supervisor. A public hearing on the sewer rates has been set for July 27.