Key Issues & Industry Updates

WQP: What are the current key issues you expect to be discussed at the WQA mid-year conference?

Joseph F. Harrison: We’re going to have important task force meetings on the septic tank issue and on the calcium magnesium issue. Another issue that will come up in the water sciences and government relations committee meeting will be from the salinity task force, reporting on the progress and updates from California and elsewhere. We are continuing to hear of places wanting to restrict and even ban water softeners to reduce salt in discharges contributing to recycled wastewater, rivers and groundwater.

We’re going to combine the retail channel section with the manufacturer and supplier section this year and if that is successful to everyone’s satisfaction, we may continue to combine these two groups into one meeting. In this meeting, we will give an update on the delegation agreement we have signed to work with California to have the Department of Health Services accept ANSI-accredited certifications in lieu of redundant state product data reviews and certifications. That’s working well for water filters and softeners. We’re going to update our applications to have independent ANSI-accredited certifications also cover reverse osmosis (RO) systems; we’ll explain that in Nashville.

Also, we’re going to have an interesting talk there from Terry Bedell, who is consulting with Clorox on sustainability and using sustainability as a marketing platform for water filtration. We will learn some additional reasons with supporting data why quality water through a home water filter or an onsite water filter provides a sustaining-the-environment advantage as well as all the other water quality aesthetic and health benefits of point-of-use (POU) water treatment.

WQP: What updates can you give on the WQA/NOWRA onsite wastewater softener discharge survey projects?

Harrison: The National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association (NOWRA) is working jointly with the WQA to look into the impact, if any, that water softener discharges or water treatment discharges in general have on septic systems or onsite wastewater treatment systems.

I count 14 states in just the past few years that have proposed regulations that restrict water softener discharges into onsite wastewater systems. The WQA has addressed each of these. We are often able to tone down the requirements or get the requirements eliminated completely. Still, the impetus seems to continue coming from manufacturers of new generation wastewater systems called advanced treatment systems. These manufacturers have put restrictions against water softeners in their warranties; they won’t honor warranties for failures in their wastewater treatment equipment if a water softener or home water treatment system discharge goes into it. When we ask why, the waste system manufacturers don’t have data, just anecdotal observations that they’ve seen failures and that the water softener could be a cause. “There’s nothing about water softener or regeneration water that needs to be biologically treated,” they say. So just to be safe, they opine, “It is something that doesn’t need to go into waste treatment systems, such extra should stay out.”

One of these wastewater equipment companies is Orenco Systems, Inc. Orenco is a leading manufacturer of advanced onsite (decentralized) wastewater technologies for individual properties and small communities. The executive vice president of Orenco, Terry Bounds, is one of the respected industry leaders in this field. The company has more than 240 employees and 100 distributors and dealers who represent most of the U.S. and Canada. The names of Orenco and Terry Bounds repeatedly come up in connection with state proposals to ban or restrict the discharge of water softener and home water treatment backwash and regeneration waters to onsite wastewater (septic tank) systems. Orenco adamantly states that water treatment discharges must not be plumbed to enter its wastewater treatment equipment and that it will not honor the warranty if any water treatment waste discharges do go to Orenco’s installed products. On May 31, 2007, Dave Loveday, Bob Boerner, DJ Shannahan, Dr. ReguNathan and I traveled to Sutherlin, Ore., to meet with the Orenco principals.

All agree the meeting was constructive. Orenco, for example, has written from the meeting that “... we made some good progress toward a cooperative effort regarding water softener concerns. We came to some agreements that certainly appeared to move us forward together to provide a united front to the regulatory community. It was a very, very good effort on the part of WQA and Orenco. Very positive.”

One of the concerns that became better defined from our meeting is the question of whether water softener brine discharges can cause a lack of the defined layers of sludge, scum and clear zone in septic tanks to the point that this significantly upsets the tank’s intended performance. Orenco’s theory is that saltwater may concentrate near the bottom of the tank, causing sludge to float on the denser saltwater layer and result in a decrease of the tank’s sludge storage capacity and “washout” of the sludge to the downstream processes. Another speculation is that dense saltwater can actually slide under the sludge that has accumulated in the tank, pick the sludge up off the bottom of the tank and raise it to the level of the septic tank outlet tee. The principle question with softener discharges thus has now become whether a denser saltwater can occupy the space in the bottom of septic tanks, reducing the effective volume and resulting in poor settling and performance in the tank.

This was studied over 50 years ago by a researcher named Weibel. In that study, salt stratification was found, but it did not impair or cause any adverse effect on the operation of septic tanks. Suspended solids removal remained the same as when there was no salt stratification, and digestion also proceeded in a normal manner; however, the WQA representatives reached agreement with Orenco that it is important to again investigate whether we can find different salt and solids stratifications and different performances in septic tanks with and without water softener discharges. This will be carried into the onsite field investigations being studied jointly by WQA and NOWRA.

From July 11 through 13, WQA and NOWRA conducted a pilot survey of 13 homes with septic tanks in North Carolina. Six of these homes had water softeners. With the help of local WQA members, WQA was able to collect and sample the regeneration water from each of these softeners. The NOWRA people—college professors and state of North Carolina and Orange County, N.C., health department representatives—opened every one of the septic tanks and took samples. Because of the Orenco concerns, I asked that they take samples at various depths of the septic tank—6 in. off the bottom, 6 in. above that and at succeeding depths all the way up so we could see if there was any saltwater stratification effects in septic tanks receiving water softener wastes versus the others that didn’t have water softeners discharging to them.

All the samples have gone to a North Carolina health department lab and are being analyzed. WQA is going to assess the data and survey results with NOWRA. A report will be written, and we will plan to have a presentation of the study at WQA’s conference in Las Vegas in March.

WQP: Have there been any new updates regarding calcium magnesium in drinking water and the WHO?

Harrison: The World Health Organization (WHO) came out with a report on desalination guidance for safe water supply in July. The WHO feels populations today are deficient in their intake of magnesium and any additional in drinking water is positive. If calcium or magnesium were in the drinking water and subsequently taken out via desalination, WHO proposes to recommend 10 milligrams per liter (mg/L) of magnesium and 30 mg/L of calcium should be added back into the drinking water.

The WHO is asking for comments on this proposed guidance by the end of October. The WQA will prepare comments. Our position remains that we do not believe the amount of calcium or magnesium that one gets in drinking water compared to that in one’s food diet is significant. To recommend that you have calcium magnesium in your drinking water or it’s going to be unhealthy is an infringement on water softening and water purification as through RO treatment, particularly if that amount in drinking water is insignificant or trivial. More importantly, most waters that are deficient in calcium and magnesium are that way not because they were treated to take the calcium and magnesium out, but because naturally soft water is common and naturally absent of calcium and magnesium.

Any city that gets water from a mountain reservoir, snowmelt water or water that has not contacted sedimentary geology has water that is naturally soft and does not have calcium or magnesium in it. That is typical of cities along the West Coast from San Francisco north to Anchorage, Alaska. It’s all mountain water and doesn’t have any calcium magnesium in it. It’s the same along the East Coast, too—from the Carolinas to Nova Scotia. The water is naturally soft with essentially no or very little calcium and magnesium in these large surface water supplies. Yet the WHO doesn’t seem to say that that water is not healthy and needs to have reconstitution of calcium and magnesium to it. I think our comments are that there needs to be more demonstration or evidence about whether there is a significance to the amount of calcium and magnesium that’s added to the drinking water. And if it is significant, the conclusion has to apply to naturally soft city waters as well as to the waters that are treated to make them soft.

WQP: How is the market responding to the activated carbon antidumping issue? More specifically, what has been the effect of the increased duty on carbon imported from China?

Harrison: People have had to raise their prices, but I haven’t heard of any real adverse impact—at least such hasn’t surfaced to me. But it has caused carbon products to go up in price because manufacturers who make carbon products have to now pay higher prices for their carbon. They have had to pass that increased cost, or at least part of it, on to the people they sell to. So prices have raised, but I haven’t heard that it’s had a significant adverse impact on the market for POU and point-of-entry products for water treatment.

For more information, contact Joseph F. Harrison, P.E., CWS-VI, technical director of the WQA, at 630.505.0160, or by e-mail at jharrison@mail.wqa.org.

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