If you live in an area or region affected by softener regulations you are keenly aware of the situation. In short yes, there are areas of the country, even whole states, where salt based softeners are banned or restricted. If you live an areas where salt softeners are banned then you already know the ban is very real.
Water softener environmental problems
Salt based water softeners use an ion exchange process where salt is exchanged for hardness. A byproduct of ion exchange is salty waste water. Salty waste water is drained into a municipal sewer system where treatment does not remove the salt. The salt is then passed into the environment, usually a river or other body of water. This raises the amount of salt in the river and eventually groundwater that is recharged by the water from the river.
Rising levels of salt in our water supply is problematic, especially for farmers who rely upon this water for crops. Simply put, high salt levels in the water used by farmers damages and even kills their crops. If rising levels of salt were ignored and allowed to continue we could see a time where farmers are not able to produce crops to feed our nation. Once salt levels are high enough to damage crops there is no practical way to reduce that salinity via man made solution. Perhaps time would eventually dilute the concentration or flush the salt to the ocean but this is not known.
Softener restrictions and bans are very real
Rising levels of salt in our water supply is such a serious problem. There are several areas around the county, mostly in California, where there is an outright ban on salt based softeners. Some might suggest switching from typical softener salt (sodium chloride) to an alternate salt (potassium chloride). In this context, it doesn't make a difference, both are banned. Because the ion exchange process cannot work without these salts alternatives must be considered. Check out what the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County has to say here.
Salt softener restrictions
There are softener restrictions around the country which dictate where the waste from a salt softener can be disposed of. Many states that have regulations preventing disposal of salty softener waste into on-site septic systems. This effectively eliminates salt softeners as a treatment for hard water where there is no municipal sewer treatment option available.
What options do you have?
There are several technologies or processes that address hard water problems without the use of salt. You might be looking to soften water without using salt. If you are, you may find a treatment system you absolutely love even more than a salt based softener. One of the oldest salt free technologies is polyphosphate. Polyphosphate is used by many municipalities across the nation to control mineral scale buildup, to protect distribution pipes and in-home plumbing.
Our own polyphosphate based PolyHalt® ion bond softeners have even more capabilities than a salt softener. In addition to softening hard water a single PolyHalt® treatment unit will address iron, manganese, low pH and even silica problems. PolyHalt treatment systems come with options such as sediment and / or chlorine filters. PolyHalt® systems range in size from point of use all the way to hotels and dairy farms. PolyHalt® systems are cartridge based system and soften without producing salty waste water or requiring power.
Softener bans and restrictions are not new and they have not been reversed since adopted. Texas, Kentucky and Montana all rewrote state septic tank regulations well over a decade ago.1
UPDATE: since writing this blog many more municipalities have enacted or are considering salt softener restrictions. These include Scottsdale AZ and the Phoenix AZ metro area.
There is a lot of information online about softener bans here is one easy to read and informative article to get started2
1. Fighting water softener bans; Water Quality Products; Carlyn Meyer, Nov 21, 2003.