Since 1998, over 85 billion gallons of recycled water have been produced for irrigation in Monterey County. That’s 85 billion gallons of water that have not been pumped out of our aquifers! Salt, especially from sodium chloride water softeners, is threatening this resource because it damages plants by restricting their root absorption.
Tips on How to Reduce the Environmental Impact of Water Softeners
If you don’t own one, consider not buying a water softener. The best way to protect our groundwater is to add as few additional minerals and salts as possible. But if you already own a water softener, there are ways to lessen their environmental impact.
Consider using a portable exchange water softener. A number of water softener companies offer this service. Instead of discharging brine to the wastewater system, the used brine is picked up by the water softener company. The salts can then be disposed of under controlled conditions.
Make sure your water softener has an on-demand setting -- not just a timer. If your water softener is an older model, consider replacing it with a newer, more efficient on-demand softener. This means that the machine will only recharge when it really needs it, not just when it’s timer tells it to recharge, based on a pre-programmed recharge volume. An on-demand model tracks how much water you actually use, and regenerates only when needed. With an efficient on-demand softener, you can save 30 percent or more on salt alone.
If your water softener is the older type that regenerates based on a timer, make sure it recharges at the lowest effective rate, and turn it off when you go on vacation.
Set your water softener for the correct hardness level. Many water softeners have multiple hardness settings but are set at the highest hardness level when they are manufactured. In Monterey County, water softeners should be set between 15 and 30 grains per gallon. Setting the softener for the proper hardness will save you money on salt and help protect our groundwater resources.
Consider switching from sodium-chloride to potassium-chloride water softener
Water softeners are a major source of sodium in recycled water. Switching to potassium will improve the quality of recycled water so it can be used for all types of irrigation including golf courses, green belts, and athletic fields. Every gallon of recycled water used is one gallon not pumped from our precious drinking water supplies. That’s good for our community and the threatened Steelhead trout.
Water softeners take the hardness (magnesium and calcium ions) out of your tap water. Small resin beads in the softener column are coated with sodium. As tap water flows over the resin beads, magnesium and calcium attach to the beads, releasing the sodium into the softened water.
Recharging Water Softeners: When the resin beads are full of hardness they have to be cleaned. This process is called regeneration. Old softeners do this using a timer. New efficient softeners have sensors that monitor when regeneration is needed. They regenerate on "demand". All new water softeners in California must regenerate by "demand".
Home regeneration: A brine solution is washed over the resin beads to knock off all the hardness molecules and replace sodium on the resin beads again. The hardness and salty water is washed down the drain to the wastewater treatment plant. Efficient water softeners use less water and salt to regenerate saving you money, conserving water, and reducing the amount of salt discharged down the drain.
Softener exchange service: A company, such as Culligan or Servi-Soft Rayne, replaces your spent softener column with a fresh one. They regenerate the column’s resin beads using salt, but are more efficient. In the future, this brine may be safely discharged to the ocean. Consider this service as a alternative to home regeneration.