Banning residential water softeners doesn’t ease water crisis

This year, legislation has been introduced in Sacramento that would authorize local officials to ban residential water softeners, creating a “wrench police” that would allow officials to remove the water softener from your home without your permission. To avoid this a gross violation of your property rights, those of us in the water quality business have been trying to work with Governor and legislature to find a fair solution to the problem this bill is attempting to address.

AB 1366 was ostensibly introduced to address issues of salinity in California’s water supply and to avoid the need to improve water treatment facilities.  Unfortunately, banning residential water softeners is not the answer. In fact, a similar ban was tried last year to address salinity issues in the Santa Clarita River, with no success.

In 2006, a law enacted allowing the citizens of Santa Clarita to vote to implement a ban on residential water softeners.  Politicians there promised voters that if they accepted a ban on softeners, a major sewer rate increase (which would be used to improve the water treatment facilities) could be avoided.  The voters agreed, and an ordinance banning softeners passed in 2008.  Recently, the voters were informed that a 300 percent rate increase is necessary anyway because the removal of softeners is doing very little to address salinity levels in the sanitation system. The same result from AB1366 is inevitable.  The only difference is that voters will have no involvement before their softeners are removed.  

The Water Quality Association is committed to working to address issues of water quality and supply and that is why we have repeatedly offered to negotiate a sensible solution with the bill’s author, Assemblyman Mike Feuer.

There are a number of ways to address salinity issues that are as effective, but less invasive and do not violate your private property rights. These include mandatory removal of inefficient residential softeners at time of home sale, an incentive program to encourage the purchase of high-efficiency replacements, and a commercial softener efficiency upgrade program.  We have discussed these options with members of the Legislature and with legislative staff and believe this measure can be amended to reflect a more reasonable approach. We believe that these options will go a long way in correcting issues in our water supply that can be directly attributed to the use of residential water softeners.

However, the state’s largest source of salinity lies in the basic water supply itself. In fact, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar piece of legislation last year and stated that the measure would “go too far in limiting residential use of water softeners” and would “unduly limit choices for consumers and small water systems, with potentially little positive impact given the relatively limited contribution of water softeners to our salinity problems.”  He also noted that privately owned softeners are responsible for “relatively little contribution” to the salinity problem.  The fact is, ninety percent of salinity comes from nature, agriculture, government (schools, prisons, hospitals, road de-icing, etc.) and similar sources.  

Legislation introduced this year does not propose a comprehensive solution for regions with serious salinity management issues and does not provide any meaningful solutions to consumers with hard water. There are many reasons to use residential water softeners—hard water makes household appliances less efficient and requires residents to use more soap and chemicals that eventually trickle into the groundwater supply. Our industry remains committed to doing our part to protect the environment.  Although softeners are responsible for only about a tenth of the problem, we have offered a plan to slash that fraction in half.  We are also collectively spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on independent studies that will show the environmental benefits of softeners, such as their ability to preserve pipes, clothes and large appliances, and the significant energy savings they provide.

It is not too late to bring together all of the stakeholders.  We are committed to authentic solutions that help make California a better place for everyone. 

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