Korenthal For Water Board

The solution to hard water…

August 18, 2010

In a previous opinion piece published in the Santa Clarita Signal, I detailed my intention to, if elected to the Castaic Lake Water Agency Board of Directors, attack some of the most urgent and persistent issues facing ratepayers in the Santa Clarita Valley. Among my top priorities is to address our hard water issues; it’s the number one issue that ratepayers want fixed.

My first action was to do my homework and research how other water providers addressed the problem. Identifying best practices and importing them to CLWA is a great approach. The answer, I discovered, was nearby. On July 28th, I toured one of California’s most advanced water softening facilities at Valencia Water Company. I met Valencia Water Operations Manager Michael Alvord for a discussion and facility tour of VW’s successful water softening test operation using a new technology called Pellet Water Softening.

A no-salt diet in Santa Clarita
Traditional self-regenerating water softeners, like those which were banned in 2005, use crystallized sodium to attract and trap the calcium and magnesium that causes hard water. This process produces a chloride-rich, briny waste that ends up in the treated sewage water that is dumped into the Santa Clara River. Santa Clarita residents are currently fighting a battle at The Los Angeles County Sanitation District regarding salty discharge into the river that allegedly harms crops downstream in Ventura County. The only other home softening option available to residents is an exchange tank option that involves carting away the discharge to dump somewhere else.
420 lucky residents
The Pellet Water Softening technology being tested on 420 homes in the Copper Hill region of Valencia bears very little resemblance to either of the existing two processes. The first and most significant difference is that the Pellet Softening technology is employed at the groundwater wellhead rather than at the ratepayer’s home. Numerous wellheads dot The Santa Clarita Valley and are the main culprit of “hardness” of our water. The facility I visited with Mr. Alvord stood on a small piece of property with a footprint about the size of a very small home. Situated on Well W-9, the device first diverts water coming out of the 90’s era well into the main tank which holds common small-grain sand. The process (.pdf) utilizes gravity and a number of substances such as carbon dioxide and sodium hydroxide to cause the calcium in the water to adhere to the grains of sand that sit in the bottom on the tank.
It’s important to point out that unlike the home water softening process, the Pellet Water Softening system does not remove healthy magnesium minerals that contribute to hardness as well. But since   magnesium only accounts for about 25% of the hard minerals in the water, softening by this process can still reach an effective level of about 75% of what one would get with a fully charged and optimally performing home, self-regenerating water softener. Depending on your preference, this might actually be better than full softening because it does not result in the slimy feeling, or feeling like you cannot rinse all the soap off your skin, when showering in softened water.
Environmentally friendly and ecologically sustainable
What I found to be one of the most impressive elements of the Pellet Water Softening Technology is that the byproduct that is produced when calcium is removed has many industrial, construction and agricultural uses. Whereas the briny byproduct of salt-based water softeners raises chloride levels, the calcium encrusted sand particles (.pdf) that result at the end of the pellet process can be sold commercially for use in fertilizers, concrete mixes, animal (particularly chicken) feed and probably a bunch of other applications that have yet to be conceived. Mr. Alvord reports that up to a one third of the costs of operating the test facility is recovered through sales of the byproduct.
Pennies on the dollar compared to other legal softening technology
When all it cost to keep a softener operating was a bag of salt every other month, traditional softening made sense. But today, that is no longer the case as a result of the need for ratepayers to invest as much as $50 per month to pay for a service that will remove the briny discharge away in metal tanks to be dumped into the sewer.  Valencia Water Company has done the math on what it would cost to deliver their technology to each of the well-heads. They have determined that if they can save money buying raw materials in greater bulk, the average user would see between a $7 and $9 a month increase in their water bill! Would you invest $7 or $9 to save $50?
I would too.
Frankly, I’m not really sure why the rest of the Valley’s water retailers have not taken advantage of this technology to help their frustrated customers. As a member of the Board of Directors, I will urge my colleagues and Agency staff to immediately conduct a feasibility study, including public meetings, to see if we can’t implement what seems to be an economical and environmentally friendly solution for our hard water woes.
Kevin D. Korenthal is the executive director of a state-wide association of public works building contractors and a candidate for The Castaic Lake Water Agency Board of Directors. He lives in Canyon Country with his wife and two children. He can be reached through his website at http://www.korenthal.com


L. Savadian at August 9, 2010:
As a homeowner in Cyn Ctry, who until last month had the exchange tank softener via Culligan for 10yrs, I look forward to GOOD water coming in to our homes. Currently, we use bottled water for drinking (humans and pet cat), though use tap water for cooking. It's insane that we here in SCV have to contend and accept the HIGH chloride levels supplied to our homes, and then we have to pay to have post-use water treated for chloride levels for the plants in Ventura. Copying a comment posted by someone else in the local paper, we ourselves need to plant Strawberry and Avocado here in SCV to force water purveyors to provide us with LOWER chloride water coming in to SCV homes. ps - I'd be more than willing to be a "guinea pig" beta-testing home if they bring it to the eastern section of the SCV.

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