Oliver promotes potassium chloride for water softeners

Posted November 2005

The Town of Oliver’s raw water is relatively hard, meaning it contains high levels of calcium and magnesium. These minerals cause:

  • deposits on shower doors, glassware, silverware, and plumbing fixtures;
  • reduced effectiveness of soaps and detergents used for cleaning; and
  • build-up of deposits in water pipes, kettles, and hot water heaters.

While many residents are satisfied with the town’s raw water, others are not and have installed water softeners. These devices may address hardness concerns, but unfortunately, the backwash discharged from the softeners into the sanitary sewer has significantly increased sodium levels in the reclaimed water. This water is used for irrigation at various locations such as Fairview Mountain Golf Course, the cemetery, some of our parks, and on the airport. Elevated sodium levels damage the environment in general and our aquifer in particular, and can detrimentally affect the growth of turf and trees, as seen at Fairview Mountain Golf Course.

After exploring options available to alleviate these concerns, the town began a 'sequestering' program in January 2004, whereby it injected poly-phosphates into the domestic water supply to bind the calcium and magnesium, thereby rendering them harmless.

Has the program been effective?    

Judging from the responses of residents who offered opinions, it appeared that most customers who previously used a water softener were not pleased with the outcome of the sequestering program. More specifically, they were unsatisfied with the condition of the sequestered water compared to the water their softeners produced. Over time, it became obvious that more and more of these customers were reverting back to their water softeners to achieve the desired results. Additionally, despite the fact that the poly-phosphates and the sequestering process had received approval from all regulatory health agencies, some customers were still concerned about potential health risks associated with the process.

In January 2005, after a one-year trial, the town felt it was not getting the technical support it needed from the supplier to resolve these issues. Therefore, the project was temporarily cancelled while a new supplier and regulatory approvals for an alternate polyphosphate product were sought. The injection process using a new supplier began again in April 2005, however, it was cancelled in August 2005, as the second product didn’t appear to be any more effective than the first.

Since terminating the injection process, complaints regarding water quality issues associated with the sequestering project have ceased. There are a few residents who feel the water treatment was an improvement, and have expressed disappointment that the program was discontinued.

So how then can we protect the environment?

The town is now reconsidering one of its initial options for resolving the high sodium problem. That is to encourage—either on a voluntary or mandatory basis—residents with water softeners to use potassium chloride instead of sodium chloride. Potassium chloride works as well as sodium chloride. Besides being effective and environmentally friendly, potassium chloride provides nutrients to plant life and eliminates health concerns associated with drinking water containing sodium.

If there is a downside to using potassium, it is the additional cost: a bag of potassium costs about twice as much as a bag of sodium. For the average household, this represents an increased cost of between $50 and $70 per year. This is a relatively small price to pay for doing your part to ensure we preserve our environment for future generations.

In coming months, the town will continue to monitor sodium concentrations in reclaimed water and give further consideration to how we might encourage softener users to switch to potassium chloride. If there is no decline in sodium concentrations, and it becomes apparent that residents are not using environmentally friendly potassium, it is likely some form of enforcement action will be taken.

For more information contact Jo Martin at 250-485-6213 or jo@oliver.ca