By George Klumb

(Editor’s Note: The following paper, presented by George Glumb, Water Conditioining Research Council Committee head, was given at the WCAI Convention, held October 112-14, 1964 at the Dunes Hotel, Las Vegas, Nevada.)


On March 18, 1957 Mr. John Hosford, at that time Executive Secretary of the Water Conditioning Foundation, wrote a letter to the Salt Producer’s Association (now the Salt Institute) and expressed concern regarding ordinances respective to water softening, as follows:

“At the Foundation’s Engineering Committee meeting on February 22, 1957, Mr. G. H. Klumb, Culligan Inc.,, Northbrook, Illinois presented a situation which concerns both the members of the Slat Producers’ group and those of the Water Conditioning Foundation.

“The situation is this: Several communities in California, specifically Ojai, have passed municipal ordinances restricting the disposition of brine into the municipal sewage system because of the unfortunate effect which they fell the introduction of brine has on the waste disposal system. The result is that several soft water service operators are now forced to use tank trucks in transporting brine to dump into the ocean some 30 to 50 miles distant; also, the sale of water softeners for household or commercial use is becoming increasingly difficult.

“While the immediate effect of such legislation in a few small towns on the West Coast is not earth-shaking, except to the individuals locally, the implications and long range effect can be quite serious if an increasing number of municipalities enact this legislation. As you know, this type of thing may spread through sheer enthusiasm for imitation without any logical basis or serious inquiry into the necessity for restriction.

“It is the consensus of our engineering committee that once we are in possession of the full facts, every attempt should be made to contain the problem to the minimum number of communities in California and to supply such technical data as is required to discourage other California municipalities or cities in other states from considering such legislation.”

The evaluation of this problem by the Salt Producers’ Association was that the area involved in this mater was very limited, extending from Oxnard to Ventura—a distance of some six miles, and twelve miles Eastward to Ojai; that no other area in the state is similarly situated and that, therefore, there is little likelihood that municipalities in other areas will adopt like ordinances. The conclusion was, “Consequently, although we would like to help the water softener regenerating plants affected, we need not worry about the problem spreading.”

Subsequently, a similar ordinance was enacted in the city of Santa Paula in Ventura County, and on May 10, 1960 the Board of Supervisors of the County of Ventura, California adopted an ordinance which prohibited the installation of home-owned water softeners in Ventura County, except where the regenerational effluent from the softener was disposed of into an ocean outfall or on a site approved by the Regional Water Pollution Control Board.

Without question, this ordinance was highly discriminatory in that the water conditioning industry has been singled out a s a major contributor to ground water deterioration, when in reality the contribution of water softeners is extremely small in comparison to other contributing fators.

The WCRC organized a special committee to study the problem and to attempt to have the discriminatory ordinance repealed.

On March 10, 1964, by a vote of 3-2, the Board of Supervisors of County of Ventura in California repealed the ordinance.

Credit for the repeal of the ordinance goes to Scotty Harris, Culligan dealer in Ventura County, who with the help of the Water Conditioning Research Council amassed a great deal of actual information on the water problem in Ventura County—and made the final presentation to the Board of Supervisors.

Since that time, the separate sanitary districts have opposed the installation of home-owned water softeners by prohibiting disposal of brine effluents into the sewer system. However, discharge has been allowed into the soil or into septic tanks at individual sites.

Before the Ventura County ordinance was repealed, an ordinance prohibiting the sale of home-owned water softeners and the discharge of salt brine by water softening regeneration plants was being considered in Livermore, California (near San Francisco) and in the upper Santa Ana Basin, which affects the cities of San Bernardino, Riverside, Redlands and others in this area.

Working through the Pacific Water Conditioning Association, the WCRC has been active in challenging this proposed legislation.

  • Copies of the proposed ordinances have been obtained.
  • Visits have been made to the areas involved.
  • After these initial steps it was decided that a fund should be collected for the purpose of employing expert consultants to evaluate the contribution of softener effluents to the problem and to put the water pollution problem into proper perspective.
  • Subsequently, the consulting firm o Geraghty & Miller was employed to make a thorough study of both the Livermore and Santa Ana Basin situations, to report to the WCRC and to suggest further action.
  • Geraghty & Miller are consulting hydrologists to the United Nations and have a worldwide reputation in this field.
  • Mr. David Miller, of Geraghty & Miller, has made several trips to the wet coast and has been in close touch with the Water Quality Control Boards which have jurisdiction over the Livermore area and the Santa Ana River Basin area.

Water In The World

In order to understand the water pollution problem in the United States we must first know how much water is available and the major uses of water.

In this regard a brief picture of the world’s water supply is both startling and revealing.

The difficulty in obtaining sufficient water does not stem from a lack of water but is due to the fact that fresh water is not evenly distributed and thus in many cases inaccessible; and to the fact that sea water is not usable for most purposes without extensive treatment.

According to Raymond L. Nace of the U. S. Geological Survey, over 97% of all the water in the world is in the world’s oceans. As afar as fresh water is concerned, over 2% of all the water in the world is tied up in the polar ice caps and glaciers. This is equivalent to 2/3rds of all fresh water and is the largest fresh water reservoir. The next largest reservoir is that of ground water, which comprises just over .06 of 1% of all the world’s water. The other sources of fresh water are the atmosphere, soil moisture and shallow ells, rivers and streams and fresh water lakes. Together these constitute a reservoir of 0.01 to 0.02% of all the world’s water.

This certainly sheds a different light on our water supply. Our ground water reservoir contains 66 times as much water as that of rivers an lakes. The polar ice caps and glaciers contain 3 times as much as the ground or 2/3rd of all fresh water. The Antarctic ice cap alone would feed all the world’s rivers for 700 years. The fresh water lakes contain more than 100 times as much water as rivers and streams combined and the atmosphere contains 10 times as much water as all the rivers and streams. The Amazon River alone carried 18% of all the streamflow in the world, a fantastic 7.5 million cubic feet per second, enough water to supply ten billion people. Thus, we are certainly not short of water in the world, but it is apparent that almost all of our water is sea water and most of our fresh water is inaccessible.

Water Use In the United States

In 1960, Walter L. Picton, Director of the Water & Sewerage Industry and Utilities Division of the U.S. Department of Commerce, estimated the amount of fresh water available in a survey entitled “Water Use in the U.S. 1900 – 1980.”

He pointed out that a s a whole our nation is well endowed with water as a natural resource. Precipitation in the Untied States is 30 inchers per year, (4,300 billion gallons per day), but this is not uniform and varies widely from one area to another and on seasonal basis. Of this total, about 70% returns to the atmosphere almost immediately through evaporation and through transpiration by plants. (Oak tree – 500 gallons a day.) While this water is lost to man as far as direct and controlled use is concerned, more than half of it serves him by watering farm crops, pastures and forests.

The remainder (1260 billion gallons per day) ends up in the ground and rivers, subject to further limitations, such as flood-flow, which accounts for about two-thirds of stream flow or runoff within a four month period. This leaves about one-third of the average available for use during the remaining eight months.

Assuming proper storage and control of release, a dependable minimum of one-half of the average or about 640 bgd can be provided. Half of this, in turn, must be retained to support aquatic life, for navigation and waste dilution, leaving a remainder of 315 bgd available for use.

According to the Department of Commerce, present water use or withdrawal is about 300 bgd, and use of withdrawal in 1980 is estimated at 425 bgd. With only 315 bgd available for use the situation would appear to be critical.

Thus, many popular writers have assumed that we are running out of water. These alarming predictions are largely due to misinterpretation. The basic mistake is that of comparing our available water supply with withdrawals. Since much of the water withdrawn is returned to the fresh water system for subsequent re-use, and much may be re-used many times, it is necessary to compare the available water supply with consumptive use to obtain an accurate picture.

According to the Department of Commerce, present water withdrawal is about 300 bgd, and consumptive use is about 130 bgd or 43% of withdrawal. Estimated withdrawal in 1980 is 425 bgd and estimated consumptive use is 183 bgd, again 43% of withdrawal, but 60% of available water as compared to 41% today. This sheds a somewhat different light on the picture of water supply and demand.

Figure one shows major uses of water in the Untied States:

Industry Municipal Agriculture

1900 15 bgd – 37.5% 3 bgd – 7.5% 22 bgd – 55%

1960 160 bgd – 49.5% 22 bgd – 6.8% 141 bgd – 43.6%

1980 294 bgd – 65.9% 37 bgd – 6.3% 166 bgd – 27.8%

Industry appears as a major water user in the U.S. and thus, a major potential contributor to water scarcity.

Actually, however, this is not true, since industrial water use is essential non-consumptive. Use of water to generate hydroelectric power or steam electric power is virtually nonconsuming oin a national basis. Other uses of water by industry are cooling, washing, rinsing, movement of materials and preparation and/or incorporation into product. About 90% of the water in industry is used for cooling with only about 2% of this water is consumed.

Graphs taken form a U. S. Geological Survey study entitled “Water Use in the United States, 1960” by Kenneth A. MacKichan, Hydraulic Engineer, clarify the picture.

The graphs are base don a total withdrawal use of water of 270 bgd. This is lower than the estimates of the Dept. of Commerce because the figure excludes water withdrawn for hydroelectric power.

According to this study, self-supplied industry withdraws the most water (62%), irrigation is a close second (40%) with public supplies (8%) and rural (1%) far behind.

The amount of water consumed is 621 bgd. or only 23% of the water withdrawn. Most of the water is returned to the fresh water system by public and rural uses and by industry, while use for irrigation is highly consumptive, due to evaporation, transpiration and incorporation in plants. (75% lost to atmosphere in arid regions).

While it would appear that we are presently consuming less than half of our fresh water supply there is reason for serious concern.

First, the figures assume uniform water distribution and consumption, but neither distribution nor consumption are uniform.

The East, with 75% of the available water supply consumes only 2% of its supply, because water use in the East is primarily industrial.

The seventeen Western states, on the other hand, with 25% of the available water supply, consume 65% of their share.

To complicate matters further, water supply and demand do not coincide and demand often exceeds the supply when water is most needed.

The Problem of Irrigation

All available studies point to the fact that most of the water withdrawn in the U.S. is withdrawn by industry, but that most of the water consumed in the U.S. is consumed by irrigation.

Studies of agricultural civilizations, throughout history indicate that irrigation is self-destructive. Thus, there is a great need for conservation and research in irrigation.

According to Roger Revelle in the September, 1963 issue of the Scientific American, on of the most critical water problems in the U.S. is that of the Southwest and Western plains region. Even if surplus water can be taken from adjacent regions the cost of water may be exorbitant for most agricultural use, but not for municipal, industrial and recreational needs.

Scientists at the University of New Mexico have shown that the average value which the use of water for irrigation contributes to the economy of the Southwest is $44-$51 per acre foot (about 326,000 gallons) of water. Whereas the value contributed form recreational uses would be about $250 per acre foot and from industrial uses $3,000-$4,000 an acre foot. Since the amount of water consumed by municipalities and industries are far less than those in agriculture, the Western States would not require such a tremendous future water supply if they moved from a predominantly agricultural economy to a predominantly industrial economy.

In addition, there is much room for conservation research in irrigation, since about half of the water provided is lost through seepage from irrigation canals and through transpiration by useless plants which line canal banks.

Responsibility for Pollution

We must place the responsibility for water pollution in proper perspective, and determine what is the contribution of domestic use, commercial-industrial use, and agricultural use.

We must ask the question, “To what extend would the problem be solved if the use of water softeners were to be discontinued completely?”

The water conditioning industry must also engage in research to reduce or eliminate their contribution to water pollution. Suggested avenues of approach are:

  1. The use of softeners with higher salt efficiency
  2. The segregation and reuse of brine effluents
  3. Treatment of brine effluents to reduce contamination
  4. New methods of water softening

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