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Owner of softener learns hard truth

Utility: Resident receives threat of fine over use of salt-emitting equipment

Posted: January 23, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: January 23, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Santa Clarita resident Mike Stafford points to hard-water corrosion on pipes attached to the salt-based water softener he was ordered to disconnect from his home.

Mike Stafford learned the hard way that soft water won’t pass scrutiny in the Santa Clarita Valley if it’s obtained with an illegal salt-based softener.

He’s still scratching his head over the means used by the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District to detect his softener. But he has no doubt the water softener police meant what they said when they threatened fines against water-softener scofflaws.

It’s been several months, but Stafford still remembers receiving the letter from sanitation district officials.

“My wife opened the letter, so right away I get this call from her and she reads it to me,” he said in an interview Sunday.

“They’re like: ‘We’ve been testing the water and we’ve determined that you are in violation of this, and if you have a salt-based water softener, here are your options.’”

The bottom line, said Stafford: He was threatened with a $1,000 fine if he continued to operate the salt-based water softener installed in his garage.

Local residents voted in 2008 to ban salt-based water softeners in the Santa Clarita Valley. In the summer of 2011, sanitation district officials announced they would hunt down those who didn’t comply.

“I made the assumption that perhaps I could be grandfathered in to keeping it,” Stafford said in the interview.
“I was wrong,” he said. “I was in violation of the law.”

Stafford said he unplugged the illegal device as soon as he received the letter. He paid no fine for the violation, but he’s still wondering how the water softener police found him.

“I do a lot work around the house, on cars and what have you, and I leave the garage door open,” he said. “Maybe they pinned it to my house because someone saw it in the garage and reported me.”

Mike and his wife, Heidi, live across from a park in Valencia.

The couple moved to the Santa Clarita Valley about 15 years ago and learned immediately about living with hard water.

An abundance of minerals in the water corroded their plumbing, shortened the life of their appliances and left a permanent film on their drinking glasses.

Within two years of moving here, they installed a salt-based water softener to make their suburban life in the Santa Clarita Valley smoother and, of course, softer.

Then Measure S in 2008 banned all brine-generating water softeners from area homes.

The purpose was reducing the amount of salt that ends up in the Santa Clara River, sanitation district officials said. The salt is harmful to crops downstream.

State mandates to reduce the level of salt in the river threatened to force construction of a costly desalination plant that would be paid for by Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District customers — every resident in the valley with a sewage hookup.

Sanitation district officials said they suspect Stafford has many partners in crime in the Santa Clarita Valley.

District spokesman David Snyder said 400 to 500 rebel water softener owners have been identified by the district, but their numbers are believed to total around 2,000.

Meanwhile, Stafford contemplates alternatives to brine-based softeners.


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