References on water softening discharge issues
Soft water has many benefits over hard water. Like clean shiny silverware and glassware. No one likes the chalky hard water spots on their silverware, glasses or dishes. Since shampoos, soaps and detergents do not foam well in hard water, naturally soft water or hard water made soft through a water softener restores the rich lathering cleaning ability and cuts down on the usage and costs of soaps and detergents by more than 50%. The harsh chemicals in todays soaps and detergents were invented to combat hard water and still have some foaming ability. With soft water, you will not need these chemical-based cleaners. For those that prefer them, they can return to natural, chemical-free healthy soaps and laundering agents. While the benefits of soft over hard water are clear, there has been some question regarding the impact of water softeners on health and the environment. These questions are reflected in issues such as the California water softener ban, the impact of water softener discharges on septic systems, the toxicity of discharged chlorides, the impact upon health of removing calcium and magnesium from drinking water, and the advisability of adjusting new home plumbing codes to include the easy hookup of water softeners in hard water areas
Forever in the forefront of the new environmental regulations, the California Assembly put forth a bill to allow regional water quality review boards to ban water softeners in new construction and mandate the removal of previously installed softeners. This bill was vetoed by the Governor of California during its first go-round, however, it is likely to reemerge in future sessions of the Assembly. Read the latest update on the situation.
It has long been claimed that water softener discharges containing low levels of chlorides may be harmful to the microbial action of septic systems. This claim has been questioned because of a lack of scientific evidence. On the contrary, microbiological studies have demonstrated that there is no impact of water softener discharges on the efficiency of septic systems.
Toxicity of discharged chlorides
Measuring the toxicity of chlorides discharges on the animal life in local streams is a complex exercise. The EPA has worked out a complex methodology to carry this out. However, preconceived notions on chloride toxicity in streams are currently being challenged as we gain a greater appreciation of water hardness on toxicity as well as the impact of testing a broader number of species to get a more precise estimate of toxicity.
The impact on health of removing calcium and magnesium from drinking water
Past epidemiological studies have related the benefits of certain minerals to cardiovascular disease. However, the range of mineral content in healthy drinking waters around the world is infinite. The World Health Organization (WHO) call for the re-mineralization of desalinated drinking water and a restriction on the use of water softeners for drinking water is inconsistent with healthy drinking waters available from around the world as well as their own public information.
Should new housing plumbing code standards include easy hookup of softeners in hard water areas?
Hard water causes a significant amount of scaling in plumbing, heaters and appliances. The costs to maintain or replace these facilities is enormous. Water softening is the cheapest and most practical way of getting rid of this problem. However, a significant amount of the costs associated with water softening systems is due to their high installation costs. These would be made much more reasonable if new housing plumbing codes are adjusted to include the easy hookup of softeners in hard water areas.
California Assembly Bill AB 2270 , which was written by Assemblymen John Laird and Mike Feuer, was designed to amend the state’s water code relating to water quality. It would have given greater autonomy to regional water quality review boards to ban water softeners in new construction and mandate the removal of previously installed softeners. The effort by the California Assembly to put through the ban failed as Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill in October 2008 .
Water softeners remove calcium and magnesium – minerals that make water "hard". When fully charged with hard minerals, the softener resins are backflushed with sodium to rejuvenate them. Hard water coats pipes and heating elements with a hard scale and makes them much less efficient over time. It also makes soap much less effective and leaves a hard residue in the hair.
Efforts are currently underway with a coalition of stakeholders headed by the Water Quality Association to address the following issues: retrofitting of older residential units to higher efficiency softeners; industry and state incentives to owners of old units to convert to undertake retrofitting; increase softener efficiencies; survey installed commercial softener units and upgrade when necessary. The intent is to give the state a roadmap on how to accomplish what they want and still allow consumers to solve their hard water problems. In addition, studied are being undertaken to show the environmental benefits of water softeners resulting from increased energy efficiency due to reduced scaling on heaters and appliances as well as a reduced discharge of soap and detergents.
Over the last few years a growing number of regulators, often urged by the on-site aerobic treatment manufacturers, have claimed that the brine discharge from a regenerating water softer discharging directly into the septic system disrupts the normal bacteria action, causes scaling, poisons the leach field (swells the soil and causes plugging), increases the density in the tank causing solids to float and overwhelms the system due to high flows during the regeneration cycle. They have proposed bans on the use of automatic softeners discharging into septic systems and have caused legislation to be enacted in several states to that effect. Some of these recommendations have been enacted into state codes, but many of them have since been overturned or modified in light of the growing body of scientific evidence showing no harmful effects from softeners on either anaerobic (septic) or aerobic (ATU) systems.
Onsite wastewater treatment systems are recognized as being an appropriate and effective means of treating daily household flows. Tom Bruursema has an excellent review article on the subject of water softener discharges and septic systems which reviews some of the history and science surrounding the issue. Chubb Michaud's article, "What's the big stink on septic discharge? " gives an excellent overview of septic systems and their operation.