Water for irrigation

The Fountain Hills Sanitary District is working to launch a public information campaign to highlight the issues of sodium-based water softeners on the wastewater and irrigation systems in the community.

The subject was discussed at a joint meeting of the Town Council and Sanitary District Board of Directors on Thursday, Oct. 9.

Salt, or sodium, has a detrimental impact on irrigation usage. It is not good for turf where the water is used.

“This is a widespread concern, not just for Arizona, but nationwide,” Mayor Ginny Dickey said.

Sanitary District Manager Dana Trompke said the concern is a challenge.

“Technically this is a very difficult issue to resolve,” Trompke said. “There are a lot of water softeners in use and every bag of salt used makes it into the sewer system.”

Waste water systems are not typically designed to remove salt since it is very expensive, according to Trompke.

She said there are jurisdictions around the county that have ordinances to regulate the use.

“We are not in a crisis situation where we would look at that,” she said.

Secondary users for the treated wastewater from the district include three golf courses and the Town of Fountain Hills. All use it for irrigation and there is difficulty in maintaining quality turf conditions with the excess salt.

There are a lot of things that can be done through education, according to Trompke. She said the district is gathering materials to develop an education program, which they hope to launch early in 2020.

One of the simplest remedies is to replace the salt with potassium, which is readily available most places that water softener salt is sold. The problem is potassium is notably more expensive. Trompke said the difference is about $100 per year. She also said there are salt-free systems available, indicating the industry is paying attention to concerns.

Councilman David Spelich said he only recently learned how much the salt used for water softeners impacts the sanitary system. He made the suggestion that the town and district could team up to make bulk purchases of potassium to make it more cost effective and readily available to fixed income residents where the cost would be significant.

Spelich acknowledged issues to be addressed such as storage and delivery, but thinks it is an idea worth considering.

“I’m interested in pursuing further discussion to see how this could work,” Spelich said.

Councilman Alan Magazine said he also was unaware of the issues with salt until a recent discussion.

“It seems it may take a pretty intense education program,” Magazine said.

Councilman Dennis Brown said there may be some positive news in that the salt-based water softeners seem to be going out of style.

Brown, a contractor and homebuilder, said he does not believe he has installed a water softener in new construction in about eight years.

“We are using more and more filtration systems instead,” Brown said. “Anyone who needs to replace their salt system can use a filtration system.”