Bracing for the Ban
Associations join forces to oppose new softener law
California State Assembly Bill 1366, signed into law by then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009, allows cities and counties to adopt ordinances banning the sale of water softeners and prohibiting the use of water softeners previously purchased by residents. This passage cast a pall over the 2009 and 2010 Pacific Water Quality Assn. (PWQA) conventions as the Legislative and Governmental Affairs Committee anticipated softener bans throughout the state.
Until this summer, the few bans that were introduced were limited in scope. The recent increases in statewide rainfall and mountain snowpack, which allowed Gov. Jerry Brown to declare an end to the state’s drought in March, meant that many municipalities had no chloride discharge issues. Another factor contributing to the low number of bans may have been the budget crunches that all government entities have had to address.
The state of the softener ban issue changed on June 15, when the Inland Empire Utilities Authority (IEUA) held a public hearing at which it adopted an ordinance banning new self-regenerating softeners in its service area. The ban was approved July 21.
IEUA is a municipal water district that distributes water from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and provides municipal and industrial wastewater collection and treatment services to more than 700,000 people in a 242-sq-mile service area in western San Bernadino County. IEUA provides regional wastewater services and imported water deliveries to eight contracting agencies: the cities of Chino, Chino Hills, Fontana, Montclair, Ontario and Upland; the Cucamonga Valley Water District; and the Monte Vista Water District.
According to a news report in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, IEUA instituted the ban because of the effects of salt, calcium and magnesium from water softeners on the recycled water it supplies locally for irrigation. IEUA estimates that approximately 18,000 ion exchange water softeners are in use in its service area, and that they release about 3,000 tons of salt into the sewer system each year. Per U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requirements, recycled water must have salt levels less than 550 mg/L. According to the report, as of August salt levels in IEUA recycled water were less than 500 mg/L.
Industry associations are concerned that the ban could have serious ramifications. Under it, residents would not be allowed to install, replace or enlarge softeners in their homes. It would also prevent them from replacing older softners with new, more efficient models that use less salt. Residents could face fines or criminal charges for violations.
PWQA, in concert with the Water Quality Assn. (WQA), has responded to the ordinance by issuing a request that IEUA hold a public hearing to address opposing viewpoints, and that it wait to enforce the ban until after the hearing. The associations also sent letters to each municipality in the IEUA service area to inform them of their position, and WQA issued a press release on its opposition the ban.
PWQA felt that IEUA passed the ordinance under an inaccurate assumption of “no opposition.” IEUA held a public hearing to discuss the ban, and the measure was passed with unanimous approval. PWQA was unaware of the special hearing, however, so it was unable to send representatives to voice its opposition to the new law. At press time, the date for a new public hearing had not yet been set.
In February, PWQA conducted its annual Legislative Days. The California legislature had 33 new members, and PWQA was well received by them. During the event in Sacramento, Calif., a press conference was held on the proposed bill to set a chromium-6 limit for drinking water, a measure PWQA supports.
On July 28, California’s Office of Environmental Health and Hazard Assessment established a public health goal for chromium-6 of 0.02 μg/L. This goal will provide guidelines for the California Department of Health, which will determine a maximum contaminant level for chromium-6 in drinking water. California is expected to be the first state to set a regulatory limit on chromium-6, but the final legislation is several years away.
California state Sen. Joel Anderson submitted a bill on PWQA’s behalf on the use of point-of-use and point-of-entry systems to meet regulatory requirements for drinking water in communities with up to 2,500 connections. The ultimate fate of that bill is also a few years away.