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SCV a soft-water test zone

Measure S will go into effect Jan. 1

Posted: December 2, 2008 9:51 p.m.
Updated: December 3, 2008 4:55 a.m.

Jonny Seccombe, president of Lifescience Products Ltd., sells non-salt-based water sofening devices.

 
Just call the Santa Clarita Valley green and salt-free.

By endorsing Measure S in November's election, the valley is the first community in California to ban salt-rendering water softeners.

It is now the testing ground for the next generation of water softeners after pioneering a move to stop water-softener-rendered salt from ending up in the Santa Clara River.

"Santa Clarita is in a very unique position compared to the rest of California," said Paul Martyn, head of the Industrial Waste Section of the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District.

"There are many other communities with issues of discharging salt," he said.

On Nov. 4, SCV residents voted to remove all salt-based, self-regenerating residential water softeners.

The ban goes into effect Jan. 1.

Measure S supporters argued 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 such as strawberries and avocados downstream.

Primarily dry most of the year, the Santa Clara is the last natural river in the Los Angeles region, and stretches some 116 miles from the San Gabriel Mountains to the Pacific coast in Oxnard.

"I'm very happy Measure S was passed," Martyn said. "We're very optimistic about removing these units from homes."

Since the ban was voted in, Santa Clarita Valley has been catching the eye of entrepreneurs selling alternatives to traditional water softeners.

Jonny Seccombe, president of Lifescience Products Ltd. and a 14-year veteran in the water-softening business, visited Santa Clarita from his home in England last week to talk about the valley's unique status.

He hopes the European success of his Aqua-Rex water softener - called Water-King in the U.K. - will play out as well in the U.S.

He's been hitting other American markets, he said, but none compares to the Santa Clarita Valley.
"We see this valley as a bit of a laboratory," he said.

"It's the only place in California where the people have been able to make a ban stick," he said, citing a jealously guarded bond between Americans and soft water.

"The last thing they say is, ‘I'm going to get rid of my gun' and then just before that, ‘I'm going to get rid of my water softener,'" he said.

If he can sell his water-softening process here, Seccombe said, he can sell it anywhere in America.

"What works here for marketing, should work elsewhere in America," he said. "We're providing an alternative to water softeners.

"We remove the bicarbonate from the water. We get the bicarbonate to precipitate (or separate) so it no longer gets dissolved in the water."

Representatives of the Pacific Water Quality Association, representing water-softener manufacturers such as General Electric, the Culligan International Company and Performance Water Products, argue they are often made the scapegoat for other agencies that dump salt into the Santa Clara River.

"Even if there's a couple of communities banning water softeners, it's not going to solve the salinity issue," said Dave Loveday, the association's director of government affairs.

"Our industry is willing to work with the community. All we want is to be at the table when these discussions are taking place."

Two weeks after Measure S passed, the Valencia Water Co. unveiled an experimental process that sets it apart from other water retailers in the state, becoming the first to supply its customers with pre-softened water.

Sodium hydroxide added to a mixture of water and sand draws the calcium out of the water and coats each grain of sand, providing ratepayers with softened water.

If Santa Clarita residents are not among the water company's 400 test subjects and do not have a water softener but hate using mineral-laden hard water, the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts urge them to check out some of the more than 40 companies listed on its Web site that offer alternate ways of softening water.

"I've heard some good things about it," Martyn said about the Valencia experiment.

He said some residents outside of the test area asked him how they too can get pre-softened water.

"There's definitely interest there," he said.

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