Hard water distribution in USA.
Image credit:Wilkes University, WaterResearch.net
When drought becomes severe, dissolved minerals increase in concentration in raw water. Additionally, if wastewater discharges cause reclaimed water to become too polluted with inorganic, dissolved substances, it can not be economically recycled. No surprise then that California is considering restrictions on the discharge of salt waste produced by certain types of water softeners. Culligan and its competitors are lobbying hard against the restrictions (revenue streams come from the continued servicing of those units): an expected defensive position. So explains the Los Angeles Times in "Culligan lobbies hard as water softeners become a drought issue" "That proposal would allow regulators to ban conventional water softeners that discharge salt into municipal sewer lines."
The bill pits giant Culligan International Co. and smaller water-softener manufacturers and their dealers against a broad coalition of interests that includes California cities, water districts, big farming groups, chicken ranchers and even the golfing industry.Expect this re-use versus salt discharge controversy to spread soon to other water-stressed areas such as Phoenix AZ and Florida.
"It's a water-quality issue," said Mike McCullough, the director of environment and water resources for the Northern California Golf Assn. "If you have better-quality recycled water, obviously the turf can respond accordingly."
Here's the money quote:
Faced with the prospect of higher sewer rates to build a new water treatment facility, residents of the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District, which includes Santa Clarita, Valencia, Newhall and several other communities in northern Los Angeles County, voted last year to outlaw salt-discharging water softeners starting Jan. 1 of this year, with a six-month grace period to comply.
Comments on the map and on softening alternatives relative to water resources management.
US coastal populations largely don't "need" softeners. They might want them as a convenience or maintain them as a habit, but in general it is a luxury.
On the other hand, there certainly are population centers in the inter-mountain West, on the Great Plains, and along the Mexican/US border, extending into southern-most California, where water softening is more valued - perhaps a necessity. For that situation, there are technological means of water softening without waste salt discharge into public sewer systems.
There are also many small pockets of man made hardness problems - this situation is created when ground water is withdrawn faster than it can be recharged, leading to a "cone of depression" that taps into saline and often arsenic contaminated ancient waters. A water softener is not the preferred solution to this issue.
Populations along Lake Michigan's southern shore and inside the Lake's watershed largely stay away from groundwater, relying instead on Lake Michigan withdrawal, to avoid the high hardness waters.
Professional water distributors can also manage hardness on their customer's behalf. One way to do this is "blend" relatively low hardness surface water with more saline groundwater. This happens often in suburban and collar counties that ring Lake Michigan, for example. Technically speaking, there is no reason why water softening can not be done by a central water distribution entity instead of at point of use.
More posts on water softening.
Phasing Out Water Softeners: A Coming Necessity In Drought
Water Softeners: The Life Cycle Treatment.