The Politics of Saving Water

by Gene Franks

To combat salinity in waste water systems and to save water, cities are adopting regulations that range from outright bans on conventional softeners to laws rewarding customers for obtaining high efficiency units or getting rid of their softener altogether.

The following is from the Water Quality Association’s newsletter  (May 21, 2014):

Water Softeners Remain a Prominent Issue in Arizona

The Water Quality Association and Arizona Water Quality Association continue to monitor several issues in Arizona, where water softeners are very much the topic of legislative and regulatory focus.

Arizona’s Legislative Salinity Committee issued its report to the legislature, making several recommendations, including an education outreach program for both water treatment installers and the general public about the effects of salinity in the Valley of the Sun. It also recommended the State adopt the California Water Softener Performance Standard: that a water softener must remove at least 4,000 grains of hardness per pound of salt used and a maximum of five gallons of water per 1,000 grains of hardness removed. HB 2117, which included the language for water softener performance standard, was introduced in the Arizona House of Representatives earlier this year. Despite passing in the House, the bill failed to be taken up by the Arizona Senate.

In March, the City of Scottsdale approved a two-year pilot program to begin using rebates to encourage consumers to change their water softening practices. These are not cash rebates, but would be credited to the applicant’s water bill. Scottsdale is offering three different rebates, including:

  • A $50 one-time rebate available to the first 300 customers each year who replace their existing water softener with a new high-efficiency device.
  • A $100 one-time rebate available to the first 100 customers per year who subscribe to a portable exchange service.
  • A $250 total rebate ($125 up front $125 after one year) to the first 100 customers who remove their water softener completely.

Exactly how the city would enforce the “4,000 grains of hardness per pound of salt” rule isn’t explained and is hard to imagine.  Perhaps by adding more code enforcement officers with flow meters, test kits, and scales for weighing salt.  But the point that  bothers me is paying someone to remove his softener altogether.  Does the softener have to be working, or can the homeowner just get rid of an old softener that’s stored in his garage?  It reminds me of a plan that our city had to give special price breaks to people who turned off their air conditioners at peak usage times.  I complained (bitterly) that there was no provision in the law to reward me for not having an air conditioner to turn off. Once our city government gave awards to people who stopped bagging their grass clippings.  There was no award for me who have never in my life bagged a single blade of grass. Nor have I ever been given an award for not watering my lawn or for not mowing it, though these save water and energy and reduce pollution.

The dilemma that city officials are in with the air conditioner and the water softener is that they they want you to save water but not too much water, and they want you to save electricity, but not too much electricity.  City utilities companies, after all, get paid by selling water and electricity, and if too many people save too much, there’s a budget shortfall.  So we are trained that to be good Americans we should water our lawns, but not too much, and that we should have an air conditioner, but we should turn it off at times when we need it most.

The world is not simple.