Water dealers may not think of involvement in the legislative process as a valuable business skill, but as softeners are increasingly targeted in legislation because of concerns over the impact of sodium and chlorides in discharge and consumers and regulators become more concerned about their impact on the environment, awareness and involvement among water professionals will become necessary.
Baptism by Fire
Culligan Southwest, Inc. President Bob Boerner, based in San Antonio, Texas, experienced “baptism by fire” with his involvement in the legislative debate over water softeners.
In 2001, Texas onsite regulators passed a rule banning water softener wastes from any septic or aerobic onsite systems, Boerner said. Culligan Southwest, with more than 100 employees serving four market areas—San Antonio, nearby Kerrville, New Braunfels and Midland-Odessa—had thousands of softener systems that would be affected, and despite being major stakeholders, no one in the water industry had been contacted about the rule.
The team at Culligan of San Antonio.
The rule “forced us into a long set of meetings with the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission (TNRCC), who were not cooperative in terms of helping forge a compromise,” Boerner said. “Ultimately, we were forced to go through the legislative process to allow us to continue to do business in areas with onsite systems, which actually represents a large percentage of many of our markets.”
The Texas legislature allowed softeners as long as the higher efficiency demand-initiated regeneration (DIR) water softener controls were used in all onsite applications. “That experience has given me unique insight into broader national regulatory issues, and we have an active committee at the Water Quality Association (WQA) which is moving forward to address ongoing onsite issues,” Boerner said.
Boerner is now co-chairing the WQA’s Onsite Issues Committee. "I got kind of swept up into that committee, having had so much experience in Texas, and then I went to Santa Fe and helped the WQA team in their efforts to support the New Mexico water dealers out there,” Boerner said. “And then from a distance I helped with a Montana issue, and now we kind of monitor the whole country about what’s going on legislatively regarding softener discharge issues."
Most recently, the WQA teamed up with the National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association (NOWRA) and North Carolina State University to conduct a study of 13 homes in a North Carolina subdivision to determine what effects water softener discharges have on septic systems. The subject was studied in the 1970s, and no apparent problems were found, Boerner said. But newer onsite and softener technologies point to a need to revisit the interaction of these systems.
Water dealers in California, which faces a high population and problems with salinity and water allocation, have seen proposed legislation that could allow localities to set up their own bans on water softeners. Boerner thinks this will likely remain a regional issue for the time being, although it can serve as education for all dealers.
Efficiency & Education
“I think it points out that we have to be sensitive to the fact that we need really efficient softeners, and we need to be setting them up right and educating our consumers,” Boerner said. “You have to be as efficient as possible. It just makes sense to use softeners that only soften when they need to, regenerating and using salt only when absolutely necessary.”
While Boerner’s successful Culligan business affords him the time and resources to become highly involved in the regulatory aspect of the industry (his grandfather, Wilbur L. Walton, was an associate of Emmett J. Culligan and started the first Culligan dealership in 1938 in Wheaton, Ill.), an awareness of legislation affecting the water treatment industry is a must for all dealers.
“It has a direct affect on our business,” Boerner said. “That’s the main reason. We’re the ones who know the most about how our technology works and how it possibly could affect the environment and how in fact it helps in some ways to protect the environment. We’re the ones who legislation affects, who are knowledgeable about our technology and who are applying it in the field…so to not be involved in the regulatory process just doesn’t make any sense, but not everybody has the time and resources to really focus on it.”