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The hard case for soft water

Posted: November 29, 2008 10:33 p.m.
Updated: November 30, 2008 4:59 a.m.

Michael Alvord, operations manager for Valencia Water Company, monitors the flow of calcium-coated pellets into a vat at the company's experimental water-softening setup in Valencia.

 
A groundbreaking water experiment is flowing through pipes under Santa Clarita Valley.

The Valencia Water Company is supplying 1.2 million gallons of pre-softened water to about 400 Copperhill residents.

The experiment, called the Groundwater Softening Demonstration Project, is the first of its kind in the country.

If it works - and it seems to be doing well, according to users - the process promises to revolutionize the way water is delivered to the community and put an end to home water softeners.

"When I first moved up here, I immediately called the water company to complain about the water," Copperhill resident Benice Haney said. "They begged us, ‘Please don't use water softeners,' but the water was horrible."

Hard water, which contains naturally high levels of minerals, primarily calcium, was destroying her appliances, leaving white residue on glasses, making her hair dull and her skin dry, she said.

"I was already on my second dishwasher," Haney said.

Then the water company launched its Groundwater Softening Demonstration Project to soften hard water before it gets delivered.

Copperhill residents are the guinea pigs.

"I noticed the difference immediately," Haney said. "My hair has been really shiny. It makes my life a whole lot easier."

The experiment was launched formally on Nov. 18 with Sen. George Runner and Santa Clarita Mayor Bob Kellar there to witness the taps being turned on for the first-ever pre-softened water supply.

It will be monitored over the next year, from September to September 2009.

It will require 24 tons of sand and produce 28 tons of reusable white calcium-shell pellets.

The water-softening technology removes 75 percent of the calcium in groundwater and works like this:
Water is pumped from a well owned by the Valencia Water Company just south of Rio Norte Junior High School on the dusty west banks of the San Francisquito Creek.

The water is then fed into a truck-sized tank half-filled with fine sand to which sodium hydroxide is added.

The caustic chemical draws calcium out of the water by raising the water's Ph, or acidic, level and then binds it to each grain of sand, producing perfectly round white calcium-coated pellets.

"When the chemical gets added, that's where the pellets start to grow," said the Valencia Water Company's Operations Manager Michael Alvord. "The pellets are actually calcium carbonate with a nucleus of sand."

The water is softened once the calcium is removed.

Carbon dioxide is added to the water after the calcium is removed in order to balance the water's Ph level.

From there the water is pumped into a vat where it's treated to remove bacteria, fed to another series of pumps and then to homes.

The whole process produces two things - softened clean drinking water and truckloads of perfectly round pellets.

The pellets can be used as a soil amendment improving the soil's capacity to support plant life, used in the manufacturing of concrete, and even added to poultry feed as a supplement.

On Nov. 4, Santa Clarita Valley residents voted for a measure to remove all salt-based self-regenerating water softeners installed locally in homes that are serviced by the county's sanitation district.

The measure received at least 63 percent of the vote and goes into effect Jan. 1.

Proponents of the ballot measure argued that getting rid of existing water softeners will reduce the amount of salt that ends up in the Santa Clara River.

Salt is harmful to crops downstream.

Advocates of the measure reported 4 percent of homeowners in the valley still own and use automatic water softeners.

Valencia Water Co. officials hope residents will be convinced by the pre-softened water to get rid of their water softeners and take advantage of rebates offered by the sanitation district.

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