Salt, plants & septic systems

Question: Help! I have a customer with 1,400 ppm salt naturally occurring in the water. I cannot use a softener obviously and will be using a brackish water reverse osmosis unit. Our concern is, what will the effluent with a concentration naturally occurring salt from this unit have on the septic system and plants? I searched your website, but could not find anything that would give me any insight on this problem. Any information or assistance you could give me would be appreciated.

Pete Ostwald
Kinetico of Central New Mexico
Albuquerque, N.M.

Answer: We had the same basic response framed different ways from two of our experts, the first for reverse osmosis (RO) and the second for ion exchange systems:

RO—You don’t say whether you’re recommending a whole house RO, softener or just a POU unit. Obviously, for a whole house RO, you should be looking at using some of the concentrate for toilet flushing. Even in that case, however, the concentration of the waste stream should be no higher than 2,800 ppm, which is certainly less than any softener brine discharge, and not high enough to affect the septic system. If surrounding plants are used to 1,400 ppm TDS, they’ll likely not be affected by the concentrate. Otherwise, salt-tolerant plants could be used.

Ion exchange—Using 1,400-ppm brackish water should be perfectly OK for irrigation. That level of salt would not affect grass or most plants. I would—of course, depending upon what makes up that 1,400 ppm—suggest not to softening it expressly for irrigation. Use it as is. It won’t harm the septic system either. Water with 1,400-ppm TDS can be softened for in-home utility applications. You might get a few ppm of hardness leakage but that’s no big deal. You would have to use an undersink RO for drinking and cooking, which is better than using a whole house R/O.

For additional information, see Bill Hall Jr.’s article, “Taking the Softener Approach to Brine: Why Dealers Have Nothng to Lose,” which appeared in our December 2001 issue (see: www. wcponline.com/NewsView.cfm? pkArticleID=1286).

No-salt softening

Question: Thank you for your fine publication. Your magazine is the only one that I look forward to reading cover to cover each month.

One of my clients has been contacted by a firm from Pasadena, Calif. It claims to reduce hardness without salt ion exchange. I am most skeptical of systems that make such claims and searched your website for any referenced articles that would help dissuade my client from considering this sales pitch. My experience with magnets and other non-conventional softening systems is that the only reduction is the money from the client’s wallet.

Does anyone have any impartial scientific examination of this system?

Ted Theilmann

Answer: I believe your perception of the efficacy of non-chemical water softeners is correct. The manufacturers of these devices seem to use only testimonial and questionable “scientific proof” without credible third-party test results. Both NSF and the Water Quality Association have tried to develop a comprehensive test protocol with the aid of the leading manufacturers of these devices, but none seems willing to cooperate enough to see it through to completion. There are several related items you can find by searching our website using the following phrases: “magnetic,” “magnets,” “clamp-on,” “physical water treatment” or “alternative technologies.” Let us know if you need additional information.

No-salt softening

Question: Thank you for your fine publication. Your magazine is the only one that I look forward to reading cover to cover each month.

One of my clients has been contacted by a firm from Pasadena, Calif. It claims to reduce hardness without salt ion exchange. I am most skeptical of systems that make such claims and searched your website for any referenced articles that would help dissuade my client from considering this sales pitch. My experience with magnets and other non-conventional softening systems is that the only reduction is the money from the client’s wallet.
Does anyone have any impartial scientific examination of this system?

Ted Theilmann

Answer: I believe your perception of the efficacy of non-chemical water softeners is correct. The manufacturers of these devices seem to use only testimonial and questionable “scientific proof” without credible third-party test results. Both NSF and the Water Quality Association have tried to develop a comprehensive test protocol with the aid of the leading manufacturers of these devices, but none seems willing to cooperate enough to see it through to completion. There are several related items you can find by searching our website using the following phrases: “magnetic,” “magnets,” “clamp-on,” “physical water treatment” or “alternative technologies.” Let us know if you need additional information.

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