Salt Increase in US Rivers

Posted January 13th, 2018

US rivers need a diet of lower salt—or our drinking water will suffer

Researchers find an increase in salts and pH in nation’s waterways, putting aquatic organisms and drinking water at risk


As an Arctic blast of cold sweeps through most of the U.S., many of us see the salt trucks working hard to keep us safe—however, this generous spreading on the roads is part of a much larger problem in our water.

Roughly 37 percent of the drainage area—the land where precipitation falls off into creeks, streams, rivers, lakes—in the lower 48 states suffers from excess salts. But that’s just half the story: about 90 percent of these same drainage areas also have increased pH, which means they’re becoming more alkaline, according to a new study published  in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

These two trends can spell trouble for wildlife, drinking water pipes, and, ultimately, our health.

We’re seeing a “change in the composition of salts,” said lead author, Sujay Kaushal, a researcher and professor of geology at University of Maryland. Different salts affect the pH of water in distinct ways and there’s been an uptick in the salts that make water more alkaline, a phenomenon Kaushal and colleagues dubbed “freshwater salinization syndrome.”

It’s the first study to tease out a link between increasing salinity and pH in our waters.

They examined U.S. Geological Survey data over the past 50 years. They didn’t just look at sodium chloride, which is what we put on fries, but a whole host of different sodium ions. These “cocktails” of salts can be more toxic than just one salt, Kaushal said.

Salt content and pH are “fundamental aspects of water chemistry, so these are major changes to the properties of freshwater,” said co-author, Gene Likens, president emeritus of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and a professor at the University of Connecticut.

There is the usual culprit of those road salt spreaders, but certain building materials—such as asphalt and gypsum—also contribute salts to waterways, Kaushal said.

“And there’s a cascading affect,” he said, “adding salts to the environment accelerates the release of more salts” that are within building materials and trapped in soils.

Elevated salinity and pH is a double-whammy: both can kill aquatic organisms. High salinity can trigger the release of toxic metals, carbon, nitrogen and phosphorous from nearby soils into streams.

Elevated pH and too much salt in water can also put our drinking water infrastructure at risk—making water more corrosive to surrounding pipes and allowing metals to leach into drinking water (such as what happened in Flint). Salts also can coat the linings of pipes, Kaushal said, and, if they build up, can constrict the flow of water.

High salt in water can spur high blood pressure in people on sodium-restricted diets.

“Given increasing impacts on ecosystems and human welfare, increased salinization and alkalinization of freshwater is now a pervasive water quality issue,” the authors wrote.

Some of the nation’s biggest rivers—including the Mississippi, Hudson, Potomac, Neuse and Chattahoochee rivers—had the most dramatic changes in salts and pH. The researchers point out that many of these rivers are also drinking water sources.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not regulate salts as drinking water contaminants.

Kaushal said there are some solutions, such as more discriminate, accurate spreading of fertilizers and road salts, or, for road salt, applying it as brine prior to big snows. “We have to maintain safety on our roads, but can we do this more efficiently?” he questioned, adding that some states and communities have started using organic de-icers and mixing salts with beet juice and sugars.

One way to prevent degrading building materials from releasing salts into water would be to regulate how close roads and developments are to waterways, he said.

Source: Environmental Health News.

Pure Water Gazette Fair Use Statement

 Does TAC (Template Assisted Crystallization) treatment make soap work better?

by Emily McBroom and Gene Franks

One of the much touted virtues of conventional water softeners is that they make soap lather better. Many a softener has been sold using in-home sales demos that fill the homeowner’s heart with visions sudsy showers, silky-soft laundry, and  big bags of money saved on soap purchases.


With the salt-free TAC units, the emphasis is usually on more mundane items like scale-free pipes and water heaters than on silky hair and spot-free dishes. We sell TAC units only with the promise that they will prevent scale buildup in pipes and appliances.  As for soap performance, we always say we don’t know.  Some customers have told us that soap does, in fact, lather better with TAC and some aren’t sure.


To settle this weighty question once and for all, we decided to do a quick test.


One of the conventional tests that home-demo sellers have used to impress prospective customers is the simple soap demo.  It is done with a dropper bottle of tincture of green soap and a small test bottle. You put some water in the test bottle, add a drop a soap, give it a shake, and see how much suds appear in the bottle. The result is predictable: The hard water sample is suds-free and the soft water sample is topped off with a big frothy head of suds.


Here’s what our test looked like when we tested untreated tap water, water softened with a conventional softener, and water treated with a small TAC unit that we made for the test.


1. Denton municipal tap water.  Mildly hard: 6 grains per gallon (Hach titration test).  Soap test result: almost suds free.




2. Denton municipal tap water processed by our office water softener: Hardness = 0 grains per gallon (Hach titration test).

The result: lots of lasting suds.


3. Finally, we tested tap water treated with a small TAC unit made with Watts Scalenet (OneFlow) media, 1/4 liter in a 9.75″ X 2.5″ filter cartridge in a standard sized housing.  The cartridge was rinsed for 5 minute rinse at 0.5 gpm, then tested.  The result:

Hardness = 6 grains per gallon (standard Hach titration test). This is as expected. TAC units do not remove calcium and magnesium, which is what is being tested with a conventional hardness test.

Tested with the soap test: medium suds.



So that proves it. TAC improves soap performance.  Although this is not a peer-reviewed, double blind test, and as far as we know no one has tried to verify the results, we’re satisfied that TAC-treated water makes soap lather a little bit better than tap water. (“Little bit” is a technical term that we use in testing to indicate an amount somewhere between “just a tiny bit” and  “a whole lot.”)

Fleck’s new 5810 control valve now ready for internet sales


Pentair’s recent release of its internet policy covering the newest Fleck control valves, the 5810 and 5812, clears the way for us to offer filters and softeners made with these valves on our website.

Although we won’t have 5810 or 5812 products on the site for awhile, and filter or softeners now sold with a Fleck 5600 or Fleck 2510 can now be ordered by phone with the new Fleck 5810.

The versatile 5810 will work on any standard residential filters and softeners on our website, and unit prices are essentially the same as units with Fleck 5600 SXT control.

More Information from Pentair.


2.5″ = 2.75″


The standard sized residential mineral tanks up to 13″ in diameter have a threaded top hole for the control head that is 2.5″ in diameter.  At least, that’s the official size.  Filter and softener owners planning to replace a control head sometimes measure the hole and are dismayed to find that they have a non-standard tank because the inside diameter of the threaded hole measures 2 3/4 inches rather than 2 1/2 inches.  Actually, all is well.

This is not uncommon with pipe thread sizes. There is a theoretical size and an actual size. Likewise, a 1/4″ pipe size pipe fitting fits a hole that measures quite a bit larger than 1/4″.


The moral: when buying fittings or replacing filter controls, go by the theoretical size rather than the actual.


Lake Champlain’s creatures feed on diet of plastic ‘microtrash’

by Mike Polhamus


A ruler marked in millimeter increments shows the size of these “nurdles,” tiny and relatively uniform but unidentified pieces of gray rubber found throughout Lake Champlain.

Plastic fibers, apparently from people’s clothing, are accumulating in Lake Champlain fish, plankton and birds, according to a SUNY Plattsburgh professor who is researching “micro” trash ingested by the lake’s aquatic organisms.

The fibers are suspected of introducing harmful substances like heavy metals and hydrocarbons — with which they bond readily — into creatures that ingest them, said Danielle Garneau, who teaches at the university’s Center for Earth and Environmental Science.

Garneau said she and other researchers found accumulations of the fibers in the innards of 14 species of Lake Champlain fish, as well as in zooplankton and cormorants from the lake.

The researchers also found flowing into the lake significant quantities of other tiny plastic particles that pass through Vermont’s wastewater treatment plants, including unidentified tiny gray rubber pieces called nurdles. Garneau said the nurdles’ origin is a mystery but that they’re distributed throughout the lake.

Lake Champlain from Battery Park in Burlington.

The nurdles and many other forms of plastic microtrash found throughout Lake Champlain appear to pass through most aquatic organisms, or to otherwise become undetectable, unlike the fibers that concentrate in their guts, Garneau said.

These fibers are primarily made of polyester and rayon, suggesting that many of them originated in the performance clothing Vermonters favor for outdoor activities in the species’ habitat, Garneau said.

The fibers seem to “biomagnify” up the food chain, she said, meaning predators accumulate garbage fibers from their prey, and those fibers then end up in whatever eats those predators, and so on.

In addition to potentially introducing harmful chemicals into organisms, the fibers are believed to interfere with their digestion in larger quantities, said Rachael Miller, founder of The Rozalia Project, a Vermont water advocacy group.

Miller said people often envision milk jugs and broken portable toilets when they think of large-scale aquatic plastic trash problems such as the garbage patches in the North Atlantic and the Pacific.

But the garbage patches consist primarily of tiny pieces of plastic found in greatest concentrations at the center of vast oceanic gyres that form the marine currents driving the world’s weather patterns, Miller said.

“That’s worse news than if it were a big floating island of trash, because microplastic is a much more difficult pollution problem to deal with,” she said. A milk jug is easy enough to lift out of the ocean, she said, but it becomes much more difficult to remove after sunshine and waves break it down into millions of microscopic fragments.

The tiny fibers that Garneau and her fellow researchers are finding accumulated in Lake Champlain organisms probably came from clothes, she said.

Research suggests the fibers escape into the environment not just from wastewater from washing machines, but also from air pumped out of clothes driers, Miller said.

Wastewater treatment plants aren’t designed to remove the fibers or other particles of plastic, and so the best way to reduce their spread is to prevent them from leaving the house in the first place, Garneau said.

Miller invented a device meant to catch the fibers while they’re floating in washing machines.

Both women said there is evidence people can help by washing their clothes in ways that don’t break down fabrics. This means liquid detergent instead of powdered, soft water instead of hard, cool water instead of hot, and gentle cycle instead of heavy duty.

“Microplastics are not just a phenomenon at the center of ocean gyres,” Miller said. “We have microplastics in urban harbors and in Lake Champlain. … It’s important that people understand this is a problem right at our toes, and not just thousands of miles away.”


What an oil spill looks like

Posted November 27th, 2017


What an oil spill looks like

The Canada to Texas Keystone Pipeline spilled oil in Amherst, S.D., on  Nov. 16, raising questions of groundwater protection. TransCanada Corp., the pipeline’s owner,  has as of late November recovered 44,400 gal, the equivalent of 1,057 barrels, though an estimated 210,000 gal were released during the leak. The site of the oil spill lies only 20 miles from the Lake Traverse Reservation, the home of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate.

Currently, the pipeline stretches 2,147 miles from Hardisty, Alberta to the Texas coast. Since 2010, the pipeline has suffered three leaks in North and South Dakota. Before constructing the pipeline, TransCanada released a spill risk assessment that estimated the chance of a leak of more than 50 barrels to be no more than once every 11 years.

Tank Tip: How to Fix a Crooked, Tipping Mineral Tank


We get occasional calls about tanks for large filters or softeners that lean to the side. If your tank looks like the leaning tower of Pisa, there’s an easy way to fix it.

Before you load the tank with media and before you hook it to your plumbing,  straighten it by simply picking it up and tapping it on a solid floor to arrange the tank to sit straight in its base. The tank will move easily in its base when you tap the base against a solid surface.

The tank is not attached to its base–it’s simply sitting in it.  Sometimes tanks get out of line during shipping and an adjustment is needed.  Once you get it straight and in place, load it and install it to your plumbing.  Once fixed, it will stay put.



Pipe Sizes

Posted November 25th, 2017

The Diameter of Pipes and Plastic Tubes: Double is More Than Double


The rule of thumb in pipe sizing is twice the diameter equals four times the flow.  Two one-inch pipes do not equal a two-inch pipe. It actually takes four one-inch pipes to carry the same load as a single two-inch pipe. Therefore, if you split a two-inch pipe into two one-inch pipes, you are cutting its flow capacity in half.


People who plumb with large pipes are usually aware of this, but with smaller tubing it’s easy to overlook this basic law of nature.


With the small flexible plastic tubing used for undersink filters and reverse osmosis units it is important to know that what is called 1/4″ tubing is measured by its outside diameter.  With 1/4″ tubing, the inside diameter, the path that the water flows through is actually about 1/8″. What we call 3/8″ tubing is roughly 1/4″ inside diameter, so following the rule of thumb of pipe flow, a 3/8″ OD tube will actually carry four times the water flow as compared with the 1/4″ OD tube.  This is a very important fact to keep in mind if you’re planning to send water from your RO unit across the room to an icemaker or refrigerator. Especially if your run is long, you’ll have a much better result with 3/8″ tubing than with 1/4″.

Scale Prevention Alternatives

Posted November 25th, 2017

Alternative Methods of Protecting Pipes

Over the years many products have been developed to protect pipes. Although the conventional ion exchange water softener, now in use for over 100 years, is the product of choice, there are many alternatives.


The use of phosphates to inhibit scale buildup goes back to the early 19th century. Phosphate treatment does not remove hardness minerals but “sequesters” them to prevent hardness scale deposits. Preventing scale with phosphates has wide application. Poly-phosphate cartridges (which often combine phosphate with carbon to add taste/odor improvement to scale prevention) are very popular in restaurants, for example, to protect equipment such as coffee machines from scale while providing good-tasting water. Poly-phosphate can also be fed as a liquid into a water stream to protect home appliances and to prevent hardness buildup on buildings and sidewalks from irrigation water.  Siliphos beads, popular in Europe but not as widely used in the US,  are an application of phosphate technology. Siliphos is a natural product, made of milk thistle, that forms a microscopic coating on the inside of pipes to protect from scale formation.


Above is a granular activated carbon/ phosphate cartridge for scale prevention and chlorine/chemical reduction. It fits standard filter housings and contains Granular Activated Carbon with 8 ounces of polyphosphate. This is a good taste/0dor cartridge that protects equipment (coffee machines, icemakers, etc.) from scale formation.  Phosphate does not remove hardness minerals in water but “sequesters” them so that they do not damage metal surfaces. The cartridge is good for about 2000 gallons service at a one gallon-per-minute flow rate.

Other Corrosion Control Methods

There are highly concentrated chemicals that can be pump fed into the water stream to protect large reverse osmosis membranes from calcium scaling. Spectraguard, for example, is used to protect reverse osmosis membranes from calcium scaling even when inlet water is extremely hard. It can replace a water softener for RO pre-treatment.

The popular treatment medium KDF, most often used  for chlorine reduction, as in shower filters, for example, is also marketed as a scale preventer. KDF uses the “redox” process of passing water over dissimilar metals to modify the structure of scale causing minerals and converting hardness to Aragonite. There are variations on this technique that use metal bars inside pipes rather than granular KDF media.

Magnets, Electro-Magnets and the Newer Methods, TAC and NAC.

Over the past few decades consumer demand for non-traditional scale prevention methods has led to the development of a number of magnetic and electro-magnetic devices. Treating scale with natural magnets actually goes back to the late 19th century. Currently there are a great number of electro-magnetic and other electronic systems on the market, ranging from simple and inexpensive to very complex and very expensive. The effectiveness of electro-magnetic devices is often debated.

By far the most popular new “salt-free” technologies, however, is TAC (“Template Assisted Crystallization”), which has become very big in the residential market and is also used in commercial applications. TAC works both in tank style units, which require no backwash, no electricity, no salt, no drain connection, and cartridge-style units for smaller applications. Like other alternative methods, TAC does not actually soften water by removing hardness minerals, but instead purports to convert hardness to microscopic crystals. As with other non-traditional softening methods,  TAC units do not actually remove anything from the water, so their performance is essentially impossible to quantify with a test. These units cost a bit more than conventional softeners, but do not consume water, salt or electricity. The media, however, is expensive and requires replacement, usually after 3 to 5 years. TAC units are also more fragile than softeners,  requiring protection from sediment, chlorine, copper, and iron.

Scale Prevention Offerings from Pure Water Products

We do not sell magnets or electronic conditioners, but we do offer small poly-phosphate cartridges and feed systems (pumps, tanks, media) for larger applications. We have Siliphos in bulk and can put it in cartridges for whole house scale prevention.  We have Spectraguard for large RO protection. We have KDF in bulk, in cartridges, and in shower filters. We have all sizes of TAC (OneFlow, formerly branded as ScaleNet).  With these we stock media, cartridges, and pre-built units. We have a very good sequestering product called Unrust for iron and hardness in irrigation wells.

And, yes, we do have lots of water softeners, both single tank and twins,  in different formats and sizes. They cost about 1/4 as much as the telemarketers’ systems, but you don’t get a free year’s supply of soap.

The Battleground Beneath Our Feet

by Gene Franks


A  recent New York Times article focuses on a pressing problem that few Americans are aware of:

America is facing a crisis over its crumbling water infrastructure, and fixing it will be a monumental and expensive task.

Two powerful industries, plastic and iron, are locked in a lobbying war over the estimated $300 billion that local governments will spend on water and sewer pipes over the next decade.

The battleground is beneath our feet. Who wins the plastic vs. iron war will affect the safety and availability of drinking water of generations of Americans.

Some of our water pipes are 150 years old. In just a couple of years the average age of  over 1.5 million miles (think of it!) of water and sewer pipes will be 45 years.  In hundreds of towns and counties cast iron pipes are more than a century old. There are even said to be a few miles of old wooden pipes that have survived for well over a century. Lead pipe water pipes, once widely used, have been banned for 30 years but more than 10 million old lead pipes are estimated to be still in service. The lead from these pipes, as the Flint experience taught us, can leach into public drinking water supplies at any time if there is a change in water treatment methods or water source.

About two-thirds of our existing water pipes are made from traditional materials like steel or iron. Plastic piping is now growing in popularity as a substitute for existing metal pipes, partially because the plastics industry is taking advantage of fears created by the Flint experience.  As much as 80% of new piping is being done with plastics.

The sale of pipe, as is to be expected, is a highly politicized business. Piping standards are often mandated by law, and many laws are outdated but very hard to change, so whether plastic or metal piping is used often depends not so much on economic, health, or safety considerations as on which industry’s trade organization has the deepest pockets.

With $300 billion in pipe sales at stake, politics rules. Corporations that supply pipe pay high dues to trade associations who lobby and initiate legislation on their behalf. Trade associations and large corporations court politicians with campaign donations. One source notes that the iron pipe industry has gone to great lengths to flatter the president through praise of his infrastructure proposals.

There is much industry-sponsored legislation aimed at modernizing piping standards. Opponents of the industry-backed bills, including many municipal engineers, say they are a thinly veiled effort by the plastics industry to muscle aside traditional pipe suppliers.

At first glance it would seem that plastics are an obvious replacement for the nation’s aging metal pipes. Plastics, after all, have already pushed out copper as the preferred pipe for connecting municipal lines to homes as well as within the homes themselves. Plastic pipe is light, easy to install, corrosion-free, and about 50% less costly than iron pipe.

Not everyone is comfortable with plastic piping, however, and there are rising health concerns.

Although plastic piping has been around for some time, we are just starting to understand the effect of plastic on the quality and safety of drinking water.  Concerns have always focused on chemicals that could leach into the water from the pipes themselves. We have not answered completely questions about how water treatment chemicals like chlorine and chloramine react with the plastics in piping. (If you wish to pursue this topic, there’s detailed information here.) Now there is concern that contaminants can enter plastic piping through surrounding groundwater contamination. It appears that pollutants like benzene and toluene from soil polluted by chemical spills or from groundwater can permeate certain types of plastic pipe and leach into the water. One report identified 150 contaminants that can migrate from plastic pipe into drinking water. The New York Times says, “Scientists are just starting to understand the effect of plastic on the quality and safety of drinking water. . . .”

One thing that should really concern us is that their is a total lack of government regulation over the safety of piping used in water supply insfrastructure. There is no federal oversight of the materials or processes used to manufacture plastic water pipes; instead, water pipes are certified and tested by an organization paid for by industry, NSF International.

NSF International is not a government agency, and it has never received regulatory authority from the federal government, yet NSF certification is widely accepted by the public as the ultimate guarantee of product safety and reliability. NSF is paid by the industries it regulates and in the case of pipe it does not disclose test results for the pipes it certifies.


Although NSF International displays a picture of the US Capitol building on its web page, it is not a government agency and does not receive its authority from the government.

There is no doubt that switching to plastic piping exclusively could save water suppliers (and consequently taxpayers) significant amounts of money in the short term, but there are public health concerns that should be addressed. It would be good if these issues could be decided not by politicians but by qualified experts acting in the public interest.