Salt reduction and restrictions on salt-based water softeners

salt shaker 2Help the environment go on a salt diet

State water officials are on a mission to lower the Delta's salt content and help farmers whose crops suffer, as well as Californians who rely on drinking water pumped from the region. To meet those goals, the state has been tightening regulations on agencies like Ironhouse Sanitary District, requiring them to lower the amount of salt that runs through their systems and that is ultimately released into the ground and waterways.

One of the causes of increased salts in the San Joaquin River is a residential automatic water softener, which generates wastewater that is high in chloride.

Not including the chloride that exists naturally in drinking water, residential automatic water softeners can account for approximately 40 percent of the chloride that enters wastewater treatment plants. ISD is required to implement a plan to reduce the amount of chloride it discharges.

Presently, the district's wastewater is sent to ISD's Water Recycling Facility before being piped to district-owned property on Jersey Island where it is released onto fields owned by ISD. Some of the water is discharged by permit into the San Joaquin River.

The district's new plant became operational at the end of 2011. In the future, the highly treated water it produces may be recycled for use by industry, agriculture and landscape irrigation. While the water reclamation process provides a high level of treatment, it cannot remove chloride. If chloride levels get too high, they can harm wildlife and negatively impact crops, vegetation, and industrial processes that rely on recycled water.

Also, at times when chloride content becomes too high, ISD may be unable to utilize its river discharge option, which in turn could negatively impact ratepayers through higher fees. While ISD does not currently regulate the use of automatic water softeners, we ask that when purchasing new softeners residents choose with care. Those who have automatic softeners should find out what style they have and consider replacing units that use salt and potassium chloride with models that are environmentally friendly.

As part of its public education campaign, the district is encouraging residents to voluntarily discontinue using water softeners that discharge into the sewer system or replace them with those that do not. Local companies EcoWater Systems or Culligan in Brentwood offer portable cylinder discharge, exchange and cleaning services that eliminate the need to discharge by converting cylinder contents to energy-matter.

Remember, ISD now releases its reclaimed water into the San Joaquin River and everyone must play a role in keeping the water free of unnecessary chlorides. Spread this message to your neighbors today.

Ordinance 57—Water Softeners

In 2015 the Ironhouse Sanitary District Board of Directors voted in Ordinance 57, which banned any installation of "salt-based" water softeners. 

The Ordinance reads that installation of a residential or nonresidential self-regenerating water softening appliance that discharges into the District sewer system owned and operated by the District or that discharges into the District sewer system that is tributary to the sewer system owned and operated by the District. New water softening devices installed for all users or structures shall be of a type and style as selected by the user at their expense, provided however that any such appliances or devices must comply with the terms and conditions of this Ordinance. The use of non-brine discharging water softening devices such as membrane or carbon systems is not prohibited by the District.

Hard facts about soft water

  • How do I know if I have an automatic water softener? If you add salt or potassium chloride to your water softener or have a water conditioning service do so, then you have an automatic water softener. If you have a water conditioning service regularly change out the tank on your water softener, then you have a portable exchange tank system.
  • What is chloride? Chloride is one of the two components of sodium chloride, also known as table salt or rock salt. It is also one of the two components of potassium chloride, also known as potassium tablets or potassium crystals. 
  • How can I help reduce the amount of chloride going to the Delta? If you have an automatic water softener, remove it today and explore an environmentally friendly model. Use non-chlorine instead of chlorine bleach, and dryer sheets instead of liquid softener when you do laundry.

Find the full version of Ordinance 57 here.

Choosing the right water softener helps meet regulations

The type of water softener you choose for your home or business can impact the environment as much as the quality of the water that comes from the tap.

State water officials are asking sanitary districts to reduce the amount of salt they release back into the waterways and ground through their wastewater systems. In turn, ISD customers must do their part by reducing the amount of salt that leaves their individual residences.

Simply changing the type of water softener you use not only can help the Delta, farmers, and sanitary districts, including ISD, but also can help you save money in more ways than one.

All softeners remove the undesirable minerals associated with "hard water." However, some recharge their filters by simply flushing their contents, and the salt that is used to free the contents, into the sewer. The result is that the extra salt and potassium chloride these systems generate is returned to the environment.

Others offer a portable cylinder discharge, exchange, and cleaning service. These are the types that ISD recommending that Oakley and Bethel Island residents use to keep excess salt out of the sewer system and eventually out of the Delta. When it is time to replace your water softener, or if you are purchasing on for the first time follow ISD's Ordinance 57 rules and purchase no-salt softener alternatives.