LA Officials Target Water Softeners

Two Los Angeles County Sanitation districts unveiled a plan Thursday that could avert a possible quadrupling of sewer fees in the Santa Clarita Valley, according to an article by Stacey Klein in the local newspaper The Signal.

Sanitation officials said levels of chloride being pumped into the Santa Clara River are surpassing the state-mandated 100 parts per million – and they point to self-regenerating water softeners as the culprit.

To bring down the chloride levels, sanitation engineers are proposing an ordinance to restrict future installation of these softeners in SCV homes. The ordinance is subject to approval by the board of the two local sanitation districts.

The main opposition to the ordinance comes from the Pacific Water Quality Association, a non-profit organization representing water quality and water supply retailers, assemblers and manufacturers.

Chloride is one of the main elements in sodium chloride – commonly known as table or rock salt – and is discharged from the self-regenerating water softeners.

District senior engineer Ann Heil reported the chloride levels at about 150 ppm, but said the district is "seeing numbers 200 (ppm) and higher."

"We like to tell people using those softeners is basically like taking (salt) to the river and dumping it in," Heil said.

Self-regenerating water softeners require about a pound and a half of salt each day, she said. Other types release only about one-third of a pound of salt per day.

The governing boards for sanitation districts No. 26 and No. 32 – those covering the Santa Clarita area – will meet next Tuesday to vote on the ordinance.

"Regardless of what the board says," Heil said, "the numbers are too high."

Heil said self-regenerating water softeners are already prohibited in commercial businesses. However, residential use is among the leading causes for the high chloride levels, contributing one-third of the chloride emitted into the districts’ water treatment facilities.

Restricting future installation of the self-regenerating water softeners is the most cost-efficient way to bring chloride levels down, sanitation district officials said.

The alternative is to install a microfiltration and reverse osmosis system that would sort particles in the wastewater and remove the chlorides, pumping them through a line to dispose of them where it is legal to dump chloride – the Pacific Ocean. This alternative, Heil said, would cost $420 million to construct, and an additional $10 million each year to operate.

The cost of the project would fall upon residents, increasing service rates to approximately $400 to $500 each year. Santa Clarita residents currently pay about $115 per house, per year, for sewer fees.

Heil said it would be possible to truck the salt out to the ocean, instead of carrying it through a pipeline. However, it would take about 1,000 trucks per day to transport the salt.

Homeowners who already use self-regenerating water softeners would not be affected by the ordinance, Heil said, as it would prohibit installation rather than ownership. However, if a softener should break, the homeowner would not be permitted to replace it, Heil said.

About 11 percent of Santa Clarita households use self-regenerating water softeners, said Don Avila, an information officer for the sanitation districts.

Heil said the districts also considered putting a differential rate program into effect that would charge residents who continue to use self-regenerating water softeners the amount it costs to remove the salt from the water – up to $2,000 per year.

Other options they have considered include rebates for residents who don’t use the self-regenerating water softeners, or buy-backs to encourage people to replace their softening systems.

If the ordinance is approved, it would go into effect March 22.

Violations of the ordinance would be a misdemeanor punishable by fines of up to $1,000 and 30 days in jail.

Chloride levels have remained around 100 ppm since 1978, Heil said. The county banned self-regenerating water softeners from 1961 until 1997.

The county sanitation districts operate two water reclamation plants in Santa Clarita – in Valencia and Saugus. Each plant processes 19 million gallons of sewage daily, Heil said.

Salts are not removed through the water treatment, she said.

Water with a high level of chloride flows down the Santa Clara River, eventually carrying the chlorides into farmland in Ventura County, where farmers have complained the salt is hurting their avocado and strawberry crops.

The Los Angeles County sanitation districts could face a minimum fine of $3,000 for each day chloride levels climb above the state-mandated 100 ppm mark. The county has two and a half years to come into compliance.

Avila said he believes fines could reach $25,000 per violation.

"We’re planning ahead before the numbers get to emergency levels," Avila said.

The national standard for the highest chloride level tolerable by aquatic life – the point at which salt begins killing organisms in the water – is 230 ppm, Heil said.

The governing board for Sanitation Districts No. 26 and No. 32 include Santa Clarita Mayor Cameron Smyth, Councilwoman Laurene Weste and Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke.

The Signal

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