Associations Cooperate to Study Combined Effects of Softeners and Septic Systems

Feb. 15, 2008
NOWRA and WQA to study the influence of water softeners on onsite septic systems

The National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association (NOWRA) and the Water Quality Association (WQA) agreed to partner to determine the effects from the use of softeners in conjunction with onsite septic systems. Where issues arise, both industries have pledged to seek workable solutions that will be beneficial and responsive to the consuming public. Both NOWRA and WQA have formalized their processes and have formed task forces designed to address the issue.

The mission of the NOWRA Task Force is to "determine the influence of water softeners and water conditioning equipment on onsite systems, propagate a professional synergy with the WQA and define useful solutions where needed."

In order to determine the influence of softeners and conditioners on onsite systems, a process is being proposed by the NOWRA task force and WQA. First, the task force will seek to compile and understand what is known about softeners and onsite systems. Secondly, efforts will be made to devise research protocols and design practical methodology to evaluate the relationship between water treatment and potential effects on onsite system performance. Third, the task force will seek funding and coordinate the implementation of the research.

To that end, two symposia were held, one at NOWRA in Cleveland and another at the WQA in Chicago. Data supporting either argument was solicited by Jim Converse (Professor Emeritus, University of Wisconsin). Proceedings from the Cleveland symposium are available. Following that, WQA held an informative symposium featuring speakers from the onsite community who informed the water treatment industry about onsite technology and the regulatory framework.

After both symposia, neither side felt adequate data existed to settle the question. Therefore, field experiences were determined to be necessary. It was agreed that sites with both onsite systems and water softeners should be visited by onsite as well as water conditioning professionals so that both these professionals could teach each other about their respective equipment and industries and thus create a useful synergy.

To that end, Dr. Bruce Lesikar, of Texas A&M University and the Consortium of Institutes for Decentralized Wastewater Treatment (CIDWT), and D.J. Shanahan, of Sharp Water Co., DE, adapted a survey instrument for use in the field. The instrument was originally created as part of the CIDWT O&M Service Provider Program used by professionals to analyze the nature of effluent entering residential septic systems.

A self-funded pilot study was planned and conducted, with the goal of developing a protocol for collecting samples and measurements from septic tanks and water treatment units to study the effect of water softener backwash on septic tank performance. A protocol developed with a small number of sites could be used for broader studies that might offer insight into the appropriate BMPs for septic systems serving residences that employ ion-exchange water treatment. A willing neighborhood in Orange County, N.C., was chosen as the testing ground presenting septic systems both with and without the addition of softener backwash.

This pilot study yielded an important opportunity to evaluate actual field conditions with collaboration from experts from both industries and was designed to facilitate development of a larger, deeper investigation defining how different influents affect septic system performance.

A larger protocol will be released by the authors and their collaborators. The protocol will address softeners as well as the larger issue of onsite system evaluation and troubleshooting.

NOWRA and WQA intend to work cooperatively to identify the extent of the influence softeners and conditioners have on onsite systems and thus provide consumers with solid answers to the remaining questions. These groups intend to create and sustain a professional synergy and propose that our industries support each other in these important investigations. CIDWT and its affiliates will also cooperate through their support of objective scientific research.

Source: WQA

Image courtesy Institute of Chemical Research of Catalonia (ICIQ).
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