Taking the Softener Approach to Brine: Why Dealers Have Nothing to Lose
By Bill Hall Jr.
Summary: The concept of regenerating water softeners causes some trepidation for water treatment dealers all too familiar with related restrictions on such devices around the country. Have no fear. Turning a negative into a positive, here’s a proposal that will not only help recycle water, but may even produce a beautiful lawn at the same time.
There has been—well, let’s call it what it is—an old-fashioned dogfight in certain localities about the use, regulation and banning of automatic regenerating water softeners. It seems that some folks feel that the amount of brine water being discharged by these devices is causing problems in municipal wastewater systems. I have an idea to submit for your approval and see if y’all think it has some merit.
What if you didn’t connect the drain line of the water softener to the city sewer system? Could the local controlling entity have a problem with the fact that you aren’t introducing brine to its system? After all, that’s what they want in the first place. So don’t do it. By not connecting to the sewer system, you don’t have to install an air gap device in the drain line because you aren’t connecting the potable water from the city to the sewer system in any way. Does this make sense so far? So what are you going to do with the discharge water? I don’t believe that there’s a controlling entity anywhere that can regulate what a private homeowner uses to water his lawn.
Approval from the top
The Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) is one of the largest regulatory agencies in the United States. The TNRCC program administrator I discussed this with thought that it was great idea. Put the discharge water on the lawn. Stay with me now.
I have just felt a huge disturbance ripple through the masses out there. It’s as if a million voices suddenly cried out, “It will kill the grass.” Well, I have proof to the contrary. Having lived in San Antonio for about 12 years, I had a water softener installed in my home. Heck, down there you don’t have a choice. The municipal water ran anywhere from 16 grains per gallon (gpg) to 23 gpg hardness depending on which well was being drawn from that day, the level of the aquifer, season of the year, etc. I didn’t connect the drain line to the city sewer. Instead, I ran the line to a PVC pipe with slots cut in it and allowed this water to drain on my lawn. Who needs Scott’s? It proved to be the greenest part of my entire lawn.
You see, in San Antonio, there are also lawn-watering restrictions. You can get hit with big fines as well as nasty looks from neighbors if they find you wasting the precious city water on something as menial as your lawn on the wrong day or at the wrong time. Lawns get pretty dry during the summer. Mine did, too, except for the part that was watered regularly by my water softener.
The Lone Star experiment
When I moved to Fort Worth, Texas, I did the same thing. The water here is about 18 gpg hardness. Again, instead of connecting to the sewer, I am watering my lawn with it. Once again, this area of my lawn is the greenest and healthiest part of my whole lawn. I repeat, I am advising one and all to place the discharge water on the lawn. Do not spray it on Mrs. McGillicuty’s prize roses or her bed of petunias that are the envy of all the blue hairs in the community’s horticulture society. Don’t put it on fruit trees or any other vegetation. I don’t know what the net result will be if you do this. Nor am I responsible for any resulting reactions. What I am saying is, put the discharge on the turf. At both of my homes, I planted St Augustine. Actually, I raked out the rocks on the dirt and laid sod over the whole thing. Anyone who has had this experience knows that you have to water a freshly sodded lawn faithfully so that it will take root and grow. Otherwise, you have the privilege of laying down new sod over the dead stuff put down previously. Once again, the area sodded with St. Augustine and watered regularly by my water softener is the greenest part of the whole lawn and has been for three years now. Coincidence? I think not.
OK, I can hear you slide-rule guys out there saying, “Give me some facts.” Why won’t the sodium or chloride concentration of the water kill the grass and what do you do about the possibility of the constant buildup of sodium and chloride concentration in one area? I know that the actual concentration of these constituents in the drain stream is fairly low compared to where it started. A concentrated brine solution is when salt is dissolved in water to approximately 26 percent by weight. One gallon of saturated brine can contain about 2.6 pounds of salt at about 80° F. One gallon of water can dissolve about 3.0 pounds of NaCl salt, but one gallon of brine can contain only 2.6 pounds of NaCl salt. You then educt this solution into the water softener control head, thus diluting the solution by at least 50 percent or more by the action of the venturi.
As the brine solution flows through the softener bed, it’s further diluted by the rinse water. At the beginning of the regeneration process, you’ll see a higher concentration of sodium and chloride than you’ll as the regeneration progresses. This continual dilution process means that you aren’t dumping a full concentrated brine solution on the lawn. The device I’m using currently is a big improvement over the stationary slotted PVC pipe system that can cause some back pressure, which prevents the venturi from working correctly. My current system uses a small vessel containing an automatic pump system feeding a garden hose with a sprinkler attached. The garden hose allows me to move the sprinkler around the lawn to keep from building up the concentration of sodium and chloride in one spot. Although, in 15 years of continually watering in one location, my lawn has never showed any signs of a problem.
Some skeptics may say that the brine solution may be further diluted by additional lawn waterings or by rainfall. This area of my lawn isn’t watered by anything other than water softener discharge and by Mother Nature. The area of North Texas is currently in a drought condition so we haven’t benefited from much rainfall for about three years now. I still maintain that this area of my lawn is nurtured mainly by water softener discharge.
OK, here comes the caveat. This system worked for me in two different locations over a period of 15 years without a problem. You need to check the local codes to insure compliance in your area. Also, I am not a horticulturist nor do I pretend to be. There may be those water treatment professionals out there who have exotic grasses or a type of grass that may not do as well as my St. Augustine did. I would tell them to get one of these systems and try it out for yourself. If anything, you can also try regenerating with potassium chloride (KCl) instead of regular salt, which KCl proponents claim is better for plants anyway (although resulting headaches of blocking at the bottom of your brine tank are difficult to avoid and chlorides still wind up in your reject water).
Once you’re convinced it will work, you can confidently promote it in your business. You can purchase and install one of the systems for less than $140. After all, the alternative may be that you lose softener sales due to discharge restrictions. This just may turn out to be a way that you can legally provide your customers with the benefits of soft water as well as giving a thirsty lawn a healthy drink with water that otherwise would have been flushed down the drain.
About the author
With 15 years experience in the wholesale water treatment market, Bill Hall Jr. is sales manager for Applied Membranes of Vista, Calif., in its Fort Worth, Texas, operation, providing commercial/ industrial and residential RO systems, components, and related equipment and services. A past president of the Texas Water Quality Association, Hall has organized and taught a number of water treatment short courses over the years. He can be reached at (817) 270-8689, (817) 270-0790 (fax) or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.