Water softeners have been keeping the headlines for years. Their banning and restrictions generated hot debate in the United States, especially in California. Are water softeners as bad for the environment as they say? Do you have alternative solutions to water softeners? Let’s discuss today the California ban of water softeners, the dangers revolving around these devices, and what you can do about the hard water problems in your home.
Salt Water Softeners Ban in California – All You Need to Know
Back in 2005, the state of California implemented Assembly Bill 1366. It enabled local communities to ban salt water softeners from meeting the environmental discharge standards. But why?
The Reasons behind the Salt Water Softeners Ban in Some Parts of California
Water softeners function based on ion exchange principles. The softener passes the water through a layer of resin beads. Salt (sodium) in the resin replaces the calcium and magnesium molecules that render your water hard and cause problems in your home. The softener thus removes these hardness minerals by swapping them this salt, making the water soft. The main issue is the salt brine water (containing chloride and sodium) that goes down the drain.
When it comes to this discharge, we talk about the waste of a minimum of 150 gallons a week. Moreover, the salt brines discharged from water softeners’ regeneration can have a crucial impact on groundwater basins, wastewaters, and recycled water.
In turn, the water rich in sodium and chloride lead to cost increases when it comes to water treatments. They also reduce the chances that people reuse this wastewater in industrial and agricultural applications. Besides, they hinder a wastewater treatment agency’s ability to comply with the state discharge standards for Total Dissolved Solids, which comprise of many dissolved minerals in the water, with chloride being just one of them.
One of the most critical issues is that the majority of wastewater treatment plants do not remove TDS from the waste stream. In other words, such substances, like chloride, end up in the environment.
The Californian Water Crisis
California considered that these issues had to stop. The state declared chloride the biggest contaminate affecting water supplies, the nation, and the world. For some, it seemed exaggerated, but some leaders considered they needed to do something. Since California goes through unprecedented drought, it may rely on other sources of water for agriculture and water recycling.
The problem with California is that water districts are making a sustained effort to “recycle” the sewage waters they used to dispose of and find them new uses. Sanitized wastewater can solve California’s irrigation issues, groundwater recharge, toilet systems recharge, and so on.
But if those sources show high levels of sodium and chloride, there is a problem. Water treatments are costly, and the water softeners’ brine put unnecessary burdens on an already existing water crisis. Many Californian communities had to choose between paying higher sewer rates to build new water treatment facilities and banning the saltwater softeners altogether. They chose the latter.
How Did 25 Californian Communities End Up Banning Salt Water Softeners
Many cities implemented buy-back programs for residents who removed and replaced their water softeners with alternative solutions. In Santa Paula, Fillmore, and Santa Clarita, the authorities provided financial incentives. Such agendas had a marginal rate of success, however. The cities found that the most effective method to eliminate the problem of water softeners’ brine discharge was to ban or limit the devices’ use altogether.
The Spark of Civic Action
It sparked for two reasons:
- On the one hand, communities had to deal with high fines for not meeting the discharge standards.
- On the other hand, farmers started protesting because the sodium discharge started damaging their crops.
In the Discovery Bay community of California, leaders took a stand after repeatedly facing state fines for high levels of salt in the wastewater it was discharging.
Eventually, in January 2014, the governing board approved a set of rules that banned the new installation of salt/potassium water softeners that discharge the brine into sewer lines. As of August 2014, 25 communities in California hold saltwater softener bans, restrictions, or regulations. Among these communities, we can count Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Diego, San Bernardino, Riverside, etc.
The adverse effects of high-sodium wastewater on agriculture are severe and homeowners who do not allow inspectors to search for banned salt-based systems face huge sewage bills.
Once the Example Set, Other States Followed in Regulating Salt Water Softeners
After California’s example, other states followed with water softeners’ bans and regulations.
In 2010, the Hamburg Township banned salt water softeners. The reason was the protection of aquifers against high levels of sodium. In addition, Michigan, Ohio, and Washington – together with Massachusetts – banned dishwashing detergent that contains phosphate. The substance acts as a liquid water softener endangering the wastewater entering streams, rivers, polluting wildlife, and their habitats.
Texas banned most saltwater softeners to reduce the excess sodium entering septic systems receiving treated water with high sodium concentrations. You could still install a water softener in Texas, but you have to prove they are conserving water.
Under the CT Public Health Code, there is a ban against saltwater softeners’ brine to discharge into private septic systems.
Other states – such as Arizona and Massachusetts – imposed bans, restrictions, and regulations regarding salt water softeners and their discharge into the environment. While the debates are getting hotter by the minute, more and more communities are considering giving up on saltwater softeners altogether.
The Environmental Impact of Salt Water Softeners
Photo Credit: NRDC
As discussed above, people are starting to push saltwater softeners away. Let’s see a few ways in which saltwater softeners can disrupt the environment and your everyday life!
Farmers have the most to worry. As salt reaches the soil one way or the other, they might not be able to grow and sustain crops. So far, there is no manufactured solution to desalinize the ground. Of course, in time, the salt in the soil dilutes or reaches the ocean, but scientists do not have all the information yet to make guarantees.
When it comes to landscaping, things are the same. If your saltwater softener’s brine reaches the underground water and infiltrates into your garden, you will notice plant issues you have never seen before. Worse, if you use a whole house water softener, the water you use to spray the lawn is rich in sodium.
High concentrations of salt change the pH of your soil, leading to brown turf patches, plant withering, ornamentals’ damages, and more. Saltwater softeners can undo all the efforts of your landscaping company that tests, fertilizes, and amends the soil so you can enjoy a lush lawn and landscape.
If you do not want to give up your water softener yet, connect it only to your hot water line. In this way, you can still enjoy soft water for baths and washing dishes, but you will spare your garden.
Saltwater softeners have far more reaching adverse effects than the eye can see. To remove the salt in wastewater, cities have to treat it. Besides the costs of the treatments, the salt needs to go somewhere. In California’s case for instance, that salt reaches the ocean, lakes, rivers, etc. High concentrations of salt can disrupt the aquatic environments and endanger the ecosystems.
Speaking about fish, you should never use softened water for your fish tank. Fish need fine-tuned environments to thrive in tanks and soft water is terrible for them. Changing the water pH, salinity, and chemical composition is a surefire way to stress your finned companions.
When it comes to sustainability and eco-friendliness, few things are worse than wasting water. In a world plagued by water crises of various severity levels, flushing away water is against all conservation principles. Since soft water is not a pleasant drink, people often install reverse osmosis water filters. They purify the water, but they also discharge it. Adding the numbers leads to enough water waste to pose a severe problem, especially in the areas where water scarcity is of concern.
Discharging excess salt in the environment is not a good idea. And, if we are to look at other resources, using soft water in your home may be unhealthy as well.
The Health Impact of Water Softeners
While it needs more research, experts agree that soft water can be harmful to people with high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases. You should refrain from drinking softened water if your diet requires you to consume low or no levels of sodium. One issue with the daily consumption of salt is that it can sustain other illnesses in salt-sensitive adults that can lead to hypertension. People with a history of type 2 diabetes, obesity, kidney problems, etc. should not drink softened water daily.
Moreover, some parents stated that soft water could cause rashes and skin irritations in children with sensitive skin. At this point, we have to admit that many people use water softeners to combat some dermatological issues, but, as we said, the topic is open to more research and debate.
Salt Water Softeners – Solutions and Alternatives
With saltwater softeners’ bans and regulations throughout the country, you may wonder about the solutions and alternatives you have. After all, limescale harms your everyday life and you have to get rid of it. Hard water is indeed a significant problem in many states. However, if you want to remove the threat of saltwater from your life and the environment, it is time for you to look at alternatives.
Water Descalers – How They Work
Water descalers are superior water conditioners that use magnetic fields or electrical currents to eliminate the problems of hard water in your home. While they do not remove the calcium and magnesium from the sea, they change their structure so they do not cause the usual effects of hard water.
With a capacitative electronic water descaler in your home, you will enjoy all the benefits of soft water – minus the salt. Your heating systems will fare better, your appliances will live longer, and your dishes/fixtures will present fewer limescale spots. Among other benefits of such hi-tech devices, we can count softer and cleaner clothes, better working machinery, and so on. If your water is already clean, you can drink descaled water without worrying about low sodium diets, hypertension, or cardiovascular diseases.
Salt Water Softeners vs. Water Descalers
When we discuss lime deposits, it is crucial to understand the difference between conventional saltwater softeners and water descalers. The latter comes with a handful of advantages you should know.
- Water descalers prevent hard water minerals from sticking faucets/fixtures, kitchen and bathroom surfaces, heating elements, pipes, etc.;
- Water conditioners can remove the scale already built inside appliances, heating elements, boilers, fixtures, and so on.
- Water descalers that use electrical frequencies do not need consumables to work (unlike softeners that need constant salt pellets) and require little to no maintenance.
- Using a water descaler is an eco-friendly option. These devices do not discharge brine or chemicals into sewers or septic systems. In other words, they help you with your water conservation efforts.
- Descalers are also more affordable – as purchase price and maintenance.
One thing you should understand is that neither water softeners nor their alternatives can purify your water. If you worry about contaminants, heavy metals, viruses and bacteria, chemical run-off, and more, you should look at whole house water filters and reverse osmosis filters. Unfortunately, the latter, just like softeners, discharge contaminated water that can eventually end up back into the environment.
Is Your State Going to Ban Water Softeners?
You may live in a state or community where lawmakers did not enforce bans, restrictions, or regulations against salt water softeners. However, seeing how things look today, water softeners may receive full bans throughout the country. Do you live in a community where there is a water softeners ban in place? If this happens, are you ready to switch to more viable and environmentally sustainable options? Have you ever considered trying a capacitive electronic water descaler?
If limescale is an issue in your home, you should test a water descaler if you gave up a water softener. You may find the results more than surprising.