By David H. Martin

Water treatment dealers attending the recent WQA Aquatech Convention and Trade Show in Las Vegas, NV were exposed to a stimulating selection of health and environment subjects presented in seminars and workshops around the annual industry event. Some of these thought-provokers challenged dealers to inject their influence and stretch their skills toward areas not normally addressed by water improvement specialists. These included topics such as the effects of hydraulic fracturing practices on well water in shale drilling for natural gas, revisiting the issue of septic tanks impacted by water softeners (or not), and residential graywater reuse practice.

Two mind-expanding sessions challenged drinking water dealers to look to marketing purified water as the final barrier solution for in-home protection from harmful contaminants — and as a natural medium for engaging in health and wellness marketing of corollary products for expanding profit. In other words, the definition of a water treatment dealer continues to evolve and expand.

Richard Mest, Master Water Conditioning, led off the WQA Dealer Section meeting in Las Vegas with a slide presentation on The Final Barrier, a powerful marketing concept for positioning POU as the final wall of protection against contaminants for drinking water at the tap. Dealers are encouraged to utilize the presentation locally, as well as WQA-produced Final Barrier brochures available from the Association.

Cartwright sees fracking as new dealer opportunity
Hydraulic fracturing, more commonly called fracking, is the controversial process by which deep drilling for natural gas in shale rock, is achieved by injecting 2-4 million gallons of water into shale at least 7,500 feet below the surface, where horizontal drilling releases previously untapped natural gas. Shale gas deposits represent a bonanza of cheap domestic energy for the US when imported oil prices are soaring. Peter Cartwright’s (PE) presentation , Hydraulic Fracturing — What’s it All About, sought to demystify the widely perceived environmental impact of fracking. Indeed, the internationally known water consultant encouraged qualified dealers in shale drilling areas to get involved in working with the industry to remediate for reuse water contaminated with fracking chemicals brought to the surface.

“While the large volume of water used in fracking may deplete a limited aquifer”, said Cartwright, “of equal concern is the possibility of chemical spills when mixing fracking fluids, and the unknown impact of flowback water disposal by injecting it into the ground.”

In spite of these concerns, Cartwright cautioned all not to conclude that fracking contaminates drinking water aquafers. His reasons:

  • Virtually all shale deposits are much lower in the ground than aquifers.
  • For a reservoir to have accumulated gas and oil deposits, it must be tightly encased within the strata. This impermeable seal prevents these deposits from migrating into other strata, such as those containing drinking water.
  • A properly drilled well will have several layers of steel casing around the hole, which is also lined with special cement in the annular space between the casing and the inside surface of the well.

But according to Cartwright, there is always the possibility of something going wrong:

  • The fracturing operation might open a fissure allowing the oil or gas deposits (along with the additives) to leak into the drinking water aquifer.
  • A poorly drilled well with faulty casing or defective cement could result in cross-contamination.
  • Flowback fluid stored above ground could leak into the ground.

“Contrary to some media claims,” added Cartwright, “the presence of methane or other organics in household water lines is not a guarantee of contamination from a fracking operation. There are numerous water wells with organic contaminants present, particularly near coal deposits. As most wells are anaerobic, methane is a common byproduct when organic contaminants biodegrade.”

What role can qualified water treatment dealers play? Said Cartwright, “Whether the contamination is the result of human activity or a naturally contaminated well, it is not the role of the water treatment professional to formally assign blame. On the other hand, the professional is in a position to recommend remediation technologies and design a treatment system, in concert with the appropriate regulators.” He cited familiar treatment technologies that can be employed to decontaminate flowback water for reuse including microfiltration and ultrafiltration. Depending on the concentration and particle size, technologies such as multimedia filtration, and electrocoagulation can also be considered.

“Our industry has the knowledge, experience and treatment technologies available to solve virtually any contamination problem, not matter how hazardous. As the contaminants are likely health-related, the professional should work closely with the Department of Health (or an equivalent governmental body) to ensure that the system meets performance requirements and is properly monitored.” (For more detail on this issue, Cartwright can can be reached at pscartwright@msn.com or www.cartwright-consulting.com.)

WQA environmental impact study helps dealers connect with septic tank owners
Water Softeners Pose No Problems for Septic Tanks was the headline of an executive summary published by the Water Quality Research Council (WQRC) in the late 1970s. The research was well-organized, independent and seemed to provide conclusive evidence to support the statement. However, skepticism on the compatibility of water softener regeneration water with wastewater treatment system performance has persisted. Much of this originated from comments made by those that manufacture, install and service on-site wastewater treatment systems, based upon their field experience. This skepticism has led to a growing number of state and local sewage codes restricting softener use with on-site wastewater treatment systems. Delaware, Connecticut, Oregon and Texas have since banned the practice. A WQRF-sponsored workshop at the 2009 WQA convention revisited the subject with no conclusive answers. A WQA dealer presentation discussed more recent and ongoing research, Water Softening Effects on Septic Tank Performance, being conducted by Dr. John Novak of Virginia Tech University”. A panel discussion, which included D.J. Shannahan Jr., CWS-VI, CI CCO of Sharp Water Culligan, Salisbury, MD; Pauli Undesser, BS, MS, CWS-VI of WQA; Regu Regunathan, PhD of Regunathan & Associates, Wheaton, IL; Robert Boener, CWS-VI of Culligan Water Conditioning of San Antonio (TX) and Steve Richards, CWS-VI, CI, CSR, CCO of The Aqua Source Group, Inc., Honeoye, NY, followed the research presentation by WQA.

The current study included field testing at two apartment buildings near Canandaigua Lake in the Finger Lakes region of central New York, involving identical softeners and septic systems installed by The Aqua Source Group, an environmental services company that combines water and waste water treatment. Preliminary field test results were promising; the next step will be to investigate the mass/density ratio on septic tank performance. A possible high-iron-content run is also planned. Some preliminary study observations point to multiple reasons some septic systems fail:

  • The presence of hydrogen sulfide (H2S) in septic tanks is corrosive (not salt from water softeners).
  • The filters found in many septic tanks are too small to handle solids that float (new systems should have larger filters).
  • A constantly regenerating water softener can cause the septic system to fail.
  • Timer-driven softener valves that waste water and salt should be replaced with demand-driven ones.
  • Old septic systems are often too small and should be replaced with larger ones.
  • Septic tanks would be emptied every 2-3 years to assure proper performance.
  • Type of soil does not permit adequate saturation (sand and gravel are best).
  • Household water usage patterns and temperature can affect efficiency.

Conclusion: Water treatment dealers should work to help educate septic professionals and their customers on best practices to maximize the performance of household softeners with septic systems. The current Virginia Tech study is scheduled to be completed later this year.

Interest in graywater reuse grows
Sybil Sharvelle, Ph.D., Colorado State University and Timothy Smith, CPD, Engineered Building Solutions, LLC, Algonquin, IL, led a session on Residential graywater reuse. A key takeaway point, according to Sharvelle, “Graywater residential retrofit projects are often impractical” as compared with new construction projects, indicating that dealers should focus on builders. The session focused on such indoor graywater uses as flushing toilets and doing laundry, with drip irrigation as the recommended outdoor use for captured rainwater. Dealers were told how to integrate a storage tank with coarse filtration and disinfection. A caveat: “Don’t reuse kitchen waste water for irrigation.”

Health and wellness marketing can expand expertise and profit
Robert Slovak of AROMAN Inc., Incline Village, NV, told of the opportunity for RO dealers to embrace pure water additives marketing as the key to selling the growing population of health-concerned consumers. “This industry needs all help it can get,” said Slovak, addressing a room packed with dealers. “Water is a wonderful vehicle to deliver nutrition.” He spoke of techniques and equipment to raise the alkalinity of drinking water, and cautioned that pH and alkalinity are not the same. Greg Reyneke, CWS-VI, Intermountain Soft Water, Lindon, UT, emphasized how dealers are best-qualified to educate and offer RO customers, a wide variety of nutritional products, create lifetime relationships, and make additional profit by tapping part of the $95 billion (USD) nutritional products industry. Reyneke capped the presentation with an offer for more information available at www.gregknowswater.com. In addition, he has authored a series of articles on the subject in the last few issues of WC&P.

Conclusion
Dealers, don’t let your product marketing mix get stale! Broaden your efforts into emerging niches — ones that expand and showcase your professional reputation and profits.

About the author
David H. Martin is president of Lenzi Martin Marketing, Oak Park, IL, a firm specializing in water improvement and environmental marketing that integrates old and new media. He can be reached at (708) 848-8404 or by e-mail at: david.martin34@comcast.net.

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