Fighting Water Softener Bans
Nationwide Legislation Regarding Softener Discharge Impacts Dealers
Dealers in many states, not just California, are rightfully
concerned about the spread of legislation prohibiting water softener discharge
into city sewers and septic systems. Although California is the center of
industry efforts to protect the market against arbitrary bans, in the last two
years several other states have issued rules prohibiting septic tank discharge.
Texas, Kentucky and Montana all recently rewrote state
septic tank regulations. These revisions primarily addressed manufacturing and
installation specifications to address the growing use of on-site wastewater
systems as the population moves further and further away from metropolitan
areas that rely on a centralized wastewater and sewer system.
However, all three states included restrictions on softener
brine within pages of other recommendations for improving the reliability of
on-site wastewater disposal systems--both traditional septic and the newer
aerobic types. Because softeners were not a major issue to the regulators, none
of the three states included the home water treatment industry as part of task
forces set up to hear the views of stakeholders.
Therefore, dealers in all three states were caught off
guard. In Texas and Montana, the regulations already had been passed by the
appropriate state agencies after several public hearings. As an outgrowth of
the Texas ban, the Water Quality Association (WQA) subscribed to a new
electronic regulatory tracking service and discovered yet another proposal in
Kentucky less than a week before the state's final hearing and passage of the
Once local dealers found out about proposed or final
regulations prohibiting brine discharge, all three states treated the
industry's concerns differently. Comparing the situations shows, on the one
hand, how difficult it is to influence agencies once the regulators have their
minds made up. On the other hand, it also shows that the industry almost always
will get a better reception from elected officials whose constituents are
served by local water treatment dealers and vote them in or out.
For example, Kentucky legislators raked environmental agency
officials over the coals for even introducing restrictions of softeners. With
an eye towards possible electoral consequences, the state Senate and Assembly
members pointed out that every legislative district in the state would be
affected by the new regulations. They sharply questioned the agency regulators
about how much salt entered the groundwater compared to other sources and what
data they had to back up the prohibition. Although the new regulations were in
the final stages of approval, the Kentucky Department of Environmental Quality
quickly withdrew the softener language when faced with the outrage of legislators.
In Texas, local dealers first met with the Texas agency
responsible for restrictions after septic prohibitions had been passed.
Although there is a shortage of scientific research on the issue, Texas dealers
presented the WQA septic tank study, as well as third-party evidence that
softeners, if installed and properly maintained, did not cause septic tank
failures in themselves. Dealers tapped into the state's formal process to
petition the agency for a review. They made little progress over months of
So, the Texas dealers decided to sponsor legislation that
would override the agency rules. The legislation, which also mandates that
dealers install only demand-regenerated softeners, passed in spring of 2003.
Dealers in Montana are working with the Montana Department
of Environmental Quality in an effort to have septic discharge prohibitions
either rescinded or revised. Much progress has been made, but this time, it's
local sanitarians that are holding up resolution of the problem. A couple of
counties persist in advocating restrictions that would effectively eliminate
the ability of iron filter and other problem water systems, as well as aerobic
systems, to discharge into the septic field.
The lesson? It's better to catch the problem before it
happens. Once it turns into a crisis situation, elected officials normally will
give dealers a fairer hearing. It is a great strength of the industry that in
states where it has a solid presence, almost every state electoral district
will have voters who are either employees or consumers of POE companies.
Meanwhile, protect your own market by keeping track of
proposals in your state regarding septic systems by visiting websites, reading state
registers and asking agencies and officials to keep you informed. style='mso-tab-count:1'>