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Trade group questions source of river salt

Trade group takes aim at water softener ballot item

Posted: October 24, 2008 10:13 p.m.
Updated: December 26, 2008 5:00 a.m.
A trade group is challenging Measure S on November's ballot, saying water softener manufacturers are made a scapegoat for other agencies that dump salt into the Santa Clara River.

Measure S seeks to reduce the saltiness of river water by removing "salt-based self-regenerating water softeners" from the Santa Clarita Valley.

From the valley the river flows into Ventura County farmland as it heads toward the ocean.

Farmers say the salt in the water is destroying their crops.

Pacific Water Quality Association President Michael Mecca says water softener manufacturers such General Electric, the Culligan International Company and Performance Water Products are blamed for the chloride content in water because they are the "low-hanging fruit" people see on a daily basis.

Mecca and two other association executives said this week that the soup of chloride-saturated water that ends up in the Santa Clara River is a soup to which many cooks add their own quantities of salt.

According to Mecca, some of sources contributing salt-based chemicals to the Santa Clara River water system include:

n Naturally occurring salts.
n Water imported from outside the Santa Clarita Valley via the local water provider, the Castaic Lake Water Agency.
n Santa Clarita Valley's two water treatment plants, which treat harmful bacteria with chlorine.
n Storm-drain runoff.
n Golf-course runoff.
n Agricultural runoff in the form of pesticides and insecticides.
n Residential waste water.
n Industrial waste water.

"We are more or less against the measure," said Tracy Stahl, a member of the Pacific Water Quality Association board of directors.

To single out water softeners as the entity that makes the water overly salty - and therefore harmful to the environment - is wrong, misleading and detrimental, Stahl said.

Supporters of Measure S, however, argue water softeners are the single largest contributor of salt to waste water.

The Web site run by the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County states: "An ‘automatic' water softener (AWS) uses up to 50 pounds of salt or potassium pellets per month and produces a salty waste (chloride) that ends up in our sewers and eventually in the Santa Clara River.

"Although water reclamation plants treat wastewater, they do not remove salt. The salty waste from AWS is the single largest controllable source of chloride in recycled water and the river."

The Sanitation Districts' Web site assures voters that owners of salt-based water softeners would be reimbursed for the cost of removing the softeners and allows other types of water softeners to be used.

But Stahl, Mecca and Dave Loveday, director of government affairs for the Pacific Water Quality Association, however, say the Sanitation Districts are not telling consumers the whole story.

Whether the measure passes or not, they say, homeowners will have to pay more in taxes when the county is forced to build a desalination plant to reduce river chloride levels to those set by the Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Approving Measure S would still mean having to build a costly "reverse osmosis" water treatment plant in addition to the treatment plants that already exist, Stahl said. Treatment plants use chlorine to kill harmful disease-causing bacteria but do not remove chloride from the water. The bottom line for association members is that homeowners using water softeners should know - before they vote - that they'll still have to pay for salt-removal in their water, with or without their softening units.


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