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Salty softener owners may get shaken

Posted: January 2, 2009 9:37 p.m.
Updated: January 3, 2009 4:59 a.m.
 
Local homeowners could be fined $1,000 and hauled in front of the District Attorney if they keep their salt-rendering water softeners. But enforcing the law might be tough, said the man who has to enforce it.

"We don't want to become the water-softening police," said Paul Martyn, an official for the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District of Los Angeles County.

On Jan. 1, it became illegal for anyone in the Santa Clarita Valley to have a salt-rendering water-softening device in their home.

"We send out notices, particularly to people new to the community, explaining the ordinance," Martyn said Friday.

Ignore the ordinance and the fine could go before the District Attorney, he said.

"We could work with the DA's office if it gets to that point," he said. "It's a misdemeanor that could become something more. Do we want to go down that road? No."

While many start diets this month as their New Year's resolutions, everyone in Santa Clarita Valley is now on a salt-free diet of sorts, having voted overwhelmingly in November for Measure S, which requires residents to remove their salt-rendering water softeners.

Most water softeners dump salt in water discharged to the sewer system.

At the stroke of midnight Dec. 31, Santa Clarita Valley became the first community in California to institute such a ban.

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 the strawberries and avocados that grow downstream.

Primarily dry most of the year, the Santa Clara is the last natural - not channeled with concrete - river in the Los Angeles region and stretches some 116 miles from the San Gabriel Mountains to the Pacific coast in Oxnard.

Although the law has gone into effect, water softener owners still have a grace period of 180 days during which time they can take advantage of a program to have their softeners removed free of charge and claim rebates between $206.25 and $1,500.

"You can keep them hidden for a while but we have sales information we can use," Martyn said. "There have been incidents where plumbing permits have been pulled."

"We could do selective sampling (of discharged water)," he said. "In fact, we're going to have to do that in order to find problem spots in the community," he said.

Law-abiding residents who do not want water hardened by minerals such as calcium, which corrodes plumbing in appliances and stains drinking glasses, are urged to visit the sanitation department's Web site where more than 50 water-treatment devices are listed.

"As a public agency, we cannot steer anyone to any one device so we decided to list them all," Martyn said.

Representatives of the Pacific Water Quality Association, representing water-softener manufacturers - such as General Electric, the Culligan International Company and Performance Water Products - say homeowners should review the test data behind any alternative device before buying.

"The bottom line for consumers is be cautious," David Loveday, Director of Government Affairs and
Communication for the Water Quality Association, wrote in a letter to The Signal.

The only practical way to remove calcium and other minerals from water is with an ion-exchange system (water softener), Loveday said.

"Water softeners have a long history of performance testing and certification," he explained in the same letter. "The (so-called) alternatives have been around for decades, but they have no such history of performance certification."

Martyn said anyone concerned about alternative water-treatment devices can call (562) 699-7411. The sanitation department Web address is www.lacsd.org.

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