Updated: April 5, 2021 by Zac Harding
Hard water is water that is rich in minerals like calcium, magnesium, and silica.
Many people chose to soften their water as these minerals can cause serious problems for heat-exchange surfaces, pipes, and water fixtures throughout their home, for example, causing pipes to become clogged by scale buildup.
This can then cause issues further down the line, for example, preventing heating elements from performing efficiently.
However, saltwater softeners are not necessarily a good solution, as all of that sodium-rich water has to go somewhere else, right?
Water softeners cause damage to the environment and aquatic life and have even had negative effects on farmers and their crops — which is why several states and many cities have decided to ban water softeners.
So which states have banned water softeners, and why are they so bad?
We’ll be answering both of these questions in this article.
What States Have Banned Water Softeners?
Because individual municipalities usually control water sources, in 2009, California issued a law allowing agencies to ban the installation of new saltwater softeners to homes and businesses that discharge water into community sewer systems.
California took this a step further in January 2014, when the governing board approved rules banning the new installation of water softeners that use sodium or potassium and discharge the salt solution into sewer lines.
As of August 2014, saltwater softeners were banned in 25 Californian communities.
In 2001 Texas issued a statewide ban on water softeners.
This law was then amended in 2003 to allow water softeners in homes and businesses as long as particular conditions were met.
For example, water softeners must conserve water by regenerating on-demand and should also be clearly labeled as being equipped with a Demand-Initiated Regeneration (DIR) device. As well as this, point of entry reverse osmosis systems must not cause hydraulic overloading.
In Connecticut, brine discharge from saltwater softeners is prohibited from entering private septic systems.
The state has also placed an emphasis on educating its residents on water hardness levels and pain points, the damages that softeners can cause to the environment, and what residents can do for alternative solutions to hard water.
Under Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection Title 5 regulations, brine discharge from saltwater softeners is prohibited from entering private septic systems.
Scottsdale was the first municipality in Arizona to directly address salinity from water softeners, and they issued an ordinance in March 2014.
This enabled residents to receive a rebate if they did one of the following: improve the efficiency of their existing ion-exchange water softener, choose a portable ion-exchange service, or remove their salt-based water softeners altogether.
The Department of Water Resources at the University of Minnesota has been actively researching and discovering solutions that aim to minimize the risks of saltwater softeners.
Many cities in Michigan have taken steps to reduce the use of water softeners in an attempt to limit brine discharge into lakes and sewer systems.
To further push this, some cities have initiated a softener buy-back program, whereas others have issued ordinances to regulate the use of saltwater softening appliances.
Wisconsin State has taken measures to reduce chloride from water sources such as
softening systems, industrial sources, and winter ice control.
Many municipalities also have systems in place to reduce the amount of salt discharged into wastewater plants and waterways, for example, the Madison Metropolitan Sewer District (MMSD) Saltwater softeners rebate program.
Why Are Water Softeners Being Banned?
In order to answer this question, we need to first look at how water softeners work.
Hard water is rich in minerals such as calcium and magnesium, and both of these have a positive charge. These are what give the water its “hardness.”
Water softeners use sodium to replace these ions, which also has a positive charge, meaning none of these ions are attracted to each other.
However, sodium’s charge is weaker than that of calcium and magnesium. In order to facilitate this exchange, water softeners use a resin bed consisting of lots of tiny, negatively-charged beads.
Sodium (salt) is added to the water softener, causing opposites to attract, and the salt clings to these beads. When the calcium and magnesium-rich water flows through the water softener, the negatively-charged resin then attracts the positively charged ions of calcium and magnesium.
And, since these ions have a stronger positive charge than sodium ions, the latter get displaced and are exchanged for the naturally occurring calcium and magnesium.
What Are the Environmental Impacts?
Adding salt to water is not a big issue for your average healthy household, but that salt is then discharged from your home and deposited elsewhere. It ends up in freshwater streams, rivers, and aquifers and ends up causing serious issues to water supplies and aquatic life.
The discharge of salt brines can also impede the ability of a wastewater treatment agency to comply with total dissolved solids (TDS) discharge standards. TDS is used to measure the total concentration of dissolved minerals in the water, with chloride being just one of them.
The main issue here is that most city wastewater facilities are not sophisticated enough or do not have the facilities to remove the added salt from the water when it’s being treated. And softened water is hell on copper pipes.
This means it’s offloaded to the environment. It also has consequences for farmers, as their agriculture relies on repurposed water coming from wastewater facilities. This sodium-rich water supply then ends up on farmer’s land and is extremely damaging for their crop yields as it’s oversaturated with sodium.
So now you know what states have banned water softeners.
With more focus on the environment than ever before, it’s pretty understandable to see why saltwater softeners are being banned in various locations all over the U.S. – and the rest of the world.
However, many cities are not only prohibiting the use of softeners but are also funding research into alternatives.