Published: April 19, 2011

    California’s War on Salt Water Softeners

    DIXON, CALIFORNIA – Residential salt water softeners, a common choice to softened/conditioned water to homeowners and their families have caused a backlash of salty wastewater and are currently causing major problems in the city of Dixon, California.

    The dilemmas faced by California water officials were multi-faceted. First of all, the runoff from these salt water softeners can impact the quality of the water routed for use in agricultural support and in drinking water. The salty discharge that reenters the public supply cannot typically be eradicated by the majority of wastewater treatment plants; they are just not adequately outfitted for sufficient removal.

    So what was the choice?  Either officials could have succumbed to a $60 million price tag to erect a new wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) that would operate on a reverse osmosis technology, or they could pass a mandate to steer the residents away from salt water softeners; a solution that would only carry a bottom line of several thousands of dollars as opposed to a new WWTP.

    In an attempt to confirm the origin of the salty wastewater, the city commissioned a study to ascertain the culprits of the contamination and found that almost half of the contribution was made by salt water softeners. According to Dixon’s Director of Utilities, Royce Cunningham, “About 45 percent of that salt load was coming from water softeners, and the majority of them were residential.”

    The residents and officials of Dixon, CA are not the first to face such a deluge of salty surplus. Several years ago, the county of Santa Clarita actually banned salt-based water softeners. And since 2009, individual cities were granted permission by the state of California to enforce such bans if the ratio of salt to water is out of proportion.

    Like a California wildfire, it doesn’t seem that it will take very long for other states to make very similar discoveries and potentially need to employ similar water softener bans in lieu of allocating funds to erect expensive treatment plants.

    It would make sense that the changes need to happen at the source of the problem; where the water softeners themselves should be converted to water softener alternative with salt free technology and that more modern water softener technologies be leveraged so as to eliminate the need for water softeners that rely on this seemingly innocuous yet harmful chemical.