By Kayla Heriaud

The Water Quality Research Foundation (WQRF)—formerly the Water Quality Research Council (WQRC) from 1968-2004 and the Water Conditioning Research Council (WCRC) from 1952-1968—serves on behalf of the Water Quality Association (WQA) as a universally recognized, independent research organization. Since its inception, WQRF can claim many successes, including the generation of essential information for the water treatment industry through educational symposiums and research studies, influencing legislative changes and helping to decrease product certification testing costs.

WCRC initiated a series of symposiums that created a dialogue among academic, environmental, political and industry leaders on various water quality issues. Each symposium featured presentations by renowned speakers on a wide range of issues related to water quality and were well attended by the public and the press. The first symposium in 1965 highlighted a presentation by Senator Robert F. Kennedy on the value and costs of providing quality water and the need to prevent contamination. In 1966, Senator Frank Moss spoke on water distribution and Senator Edmund Muskie discussed pollution control. In 1967, Senators Gale McGee and Jim Wright spoke about water resource usage in the US. The focus shifted to agricultural issues in 1968, when the featured speakers were Muskie and William R. Gainelli, Director of the California State Department of Water Resources.

The 1970 symposium spotlighted talks on pollution, technology and the environment, presented by Senator Birch Bayh. Also featured were key results from the Consumer Motivation Study (1960), informing the audience that the decision-maker for a softener purchase at that time was more interested in the beauty aspects than the economic benefits of softened water. Of interest from the final symposium was architect and innovator Buckminster Fuller on pollution and pollster George Gallup Jr. on public perceptions about environmental issues. The symposium also featured discussions on the potential relationship between trace elements and heart disease. A common misconception at the time was that softened water lacked unspecified trace minerals necessary for strong arteries. This prompted WQRC to undertake the Heart Disease Study (1988), which refuted those claims.

Although 1974 marked the end of the symposium series, the organization continued to invest in education. In 2001 and 2006, WQRC and then WQRF partnered with the World Health Organization to ensure the success of two symposiums. WQRC provided funding support toward the international symposium on heterotrophic plate count (HPC) bacteria as a part of the effort to ensure science-based decision-making regarding HPC bacteria in drinking water. WQRF also provided funding support for the 2006 International Symposium on Health Aspects of Calcium and Magnesium in Drinking Water.

The success of the foundation’s research is not only realized through the essential information it provides for the industry and the public at large, but also through using science-driven data to positively impact change. The 1978 studies, Potential Effects of Water Softener Use on Septic Tank Soil Absorption On-Site Wastewater Systems and The Effects Of Home Water Softener Waste Regeneration Brines on Individual Aerobic Wastewater Treatment Plants, in conjunction with Changes in Septic Tank Effluent Due to Water Softener Use (2013) prompted the State of Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission to accept WQA’s 2002 petition to rescind the code prohibiting softener and RO discharges to enter on-site sewage treatment facilities. The studies also impacted two instances of change in 2014: The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control outlined a procedure to apply for a one-time formal waiver of the requirements in DAC 7101-3.31.4 for the disposal of regeneration water into on-site wastewater treatment and disposal systems. Additionally, the Illinois Department of Public Health approved the discharge of an NSF/ANSI 44-certified softener into the main building drain of a structure, in lieu of a separate building drain as previously required in Section 905.20 of the Private Sewage Disposal Code.

The Wisconsin WQA, utilizing the data from Analysis of Indoor Peak Demands in 60 Selected Single-Family Homes (2003), was successful in petitioning the Wisconsin Plumbing Code, as the Wisconsin Department of Commerce approved alternate POE treatment device-sizing separate from the water-supply fixture-count method. Instead of 16-gpm units required in a four-bathroom home, for example, the approved alternative allows water softeners or POE units with a seven-gpm service flowrate, provided outside hose bibs are bypassed. The Softened Water Benefits Study (2009) quantified the energy efficiency achieved for water heaters and, therefore, reduced carbon footprint and reduced detergent usage from using softened water, data which has elevated the credibility of the industry by providing evidence-based claims. Optimization of Water Softeners for Reduced Influent Chloride (2015) studied optimization and replacement of softeners in two neighborhoods in the Madison, WI area compared to control neighborhoods in the same sewershed. On average, the study found a 47-percent reduction in the concentration of chloride discharge when softeners were replaced with systems meeting 4,000 grains/pound salt efficiency and a 27-percent reduction was found by optimizing existing systems. As a result, municipalities have implemented pro-business solutions, such as optimization programs, to reduce chlorides in wastewater.

Utilizing media sources and state primacy agency reports, National Occurrence of Boil Water Notices (BWNs) from 2012-2014 (2016) found that 14 percent of these notices were from E. coli contamination and 53 percent were from water-main breaks or leaks. The study details that “fifteen states did not provide information on BWNs, citing that such information is either not available, not archived, not reported to the primacy agency, or withheld pursuant to state ‘Public Officers Law.’” Of the states that did provide data, there were clear differences in reporting methods; for example, Kentucky reported 7,375 BWNs and Tennessee reported only six. Additionally, in seven out of 50 states, the quantity of state primacy agency BWNs reports were much lower than the data collected from media sources. These discrepancies prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to assign a staff person to investigate state-by-state differences in reporting BWNs.

Evaluation of Chloroform as a Surrogate for Selected Organic Contaminants in Carbon Drinking Water Treatment Units (1993, 1998) determined the ability of chloroform to perform as a surrogate test parameter for 30 regulated organic contaminants. Evaluation of Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) as a Surrogate Parameter for the Reduction of Inorganic Contaminants by Distillation Systems (1991) found that TDS, as sodium chloride, is an effective indicator of reduction efficiency for various inorganic contaminants. The use of a surrogate ultimately lowers product certification costs, which in turn also benefits the consumer.
In present day, WQRF continues to diversify its research agenda to generate timely, essential information for the industry. Some recently completed WQRF studies include: Counterfeit Refrigerator Filters Performance Study (2018) and The Household Point-of-Use Pathogen Survey (2019). Currently in the works are: Emerging Technology Benchmarking Study, Predictive Modeling of US Drinking Water Emergencies Study, Contaminant Level Occurrence Study and Emerging Contaminant Removal and Microbial Growth in Membrane Filtration and Activated Carbon Point-Of-Use Systems. The Sustainability Comparison Study: POU/POE and Centralized Treatment for Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) Compliance is expected to start in January 2020. Additionally, WQRF research task forces will be developing requests for proposals (RFPs) over the next 12-18 months for three new studies: Emerging Contaminants Consumer Study, Case Studies of POU/POE use for SDWA Compliance and Survey of POE Operating Systems – Water Usage, Efficiencies, and Discharges. WQRF is also anticipating continuing the Grant Program in 2020.

Conducting these critical research studies would not be possible without the support from generous contributors. For more information on how to get involved with WQRF to help move the industry forward, please visit or contact the author via email at [email protected].

About the author
Kayla Heriaud serves as the Research Project Leader for the Water Quality Research Foundation, where she is responsible for reviewing industry needs for research, preparing forward-looking research agendas for WQRF and promoting the foundation’s research findings and key achievements. Heriaud holds a Bachelor’s Degree in biology from the University of St. Francis.


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