The Water Quality Association and the National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association (NOWRA) are working together to discover what effect water softeners have on septic systems.
There are data that indicate softeners have a negative impact and another set of data that say softeners have no impact. Water softeners have been installed for decades. Yet among these sites, equipment ranges from new and efficient to old an inefficient, basic septic tanks to advanced treatment unit systems and well-maintained to poorly maintained. Given these facts, some systems may have issues due to softeners, while others do not. The WQA and NOWRA are trying to view these variables from a scientifically objective point of view.
Dr. Richard J. Otis, a NOWRA board member, recently wrote a comprehensive article looking at some of the claims being made. According to Otis, many assertions are alleged, with only anecdotal evidence to back them up.
He concludes, “I am not suggesting that water softeners do not impact onsite system performance. We do not seem to have relevant, credible and sufficient data to rule it out. However, I suspect that where water softeners are used appropriately, any impacts are insignificant. Thousands of systems have been receiving water softener regenerate brine for many years without a correlation drawn between water softener discharges and hydraulic failures.
In fact, the EPA fact sheet on water softeners states: “Studies conducted by scientists at the University of Wisconsin and the National Sanitation Foundation conclude the wastewater effluent generated from properly operating and maintained water softeners will not harm onsite systems that are designed, operated and maintained appropriately.
Currently, NOWRA and the WQA are working with local county and university officials in North Carolina on results from a pilot study of several onsite and water softener systems working together. A number of homeowners have allowed the joint NOWRA and WQA researchers to examine their premises. Early results are beginning to come in, and they will be reported soon. The intention is to use this information to determine the next steps for further studies.
NOWRA and WQA leaders have stated that they will continue working in a collegial manner to ensure that public officials and those in the industry have solid data driving their decisions.