Presentation: Getting the Salt Out – An Innovative Plan to Reduce Chloride

Credit: LACSD

By Wendy Wert

On October 25, 2007 the Los Angeles Basin Section (LABS) of CWEA hosted a Dinner and Training meeting at the Monterey Hill Restaurant in Monterey Park. The featured speaker Preeti Ghuman a Civil Engineer, with the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts (LACSD), currently works on residential pollution prevention and source control. She manages the multimillion dollar Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District’s Automatic Water Softener Rebate Program and public outreach campaign. Ms. Ghuman introduced the project and discussed progress, highlighting innovative approaches.

Credit: LACSD 

The Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District (District) must significantly reduce chloride discharges to meet the water quality objective of 100 milligrams/liter set by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board for the Santa Clara River. Without source control advanced treatment in the form of microfiltration and reverse osmosis would have been required to achieve this objective. The cost of advanced treatment, estimated at $350 million, would have resulted in a 4-fold increase to ratepayers.

Prior to embarking on this resource intensive program, the District performed a source assessment and alternatives evaluation. Wastewater generated in the Valley, is sent to the District’s Saugus and Valencia Water Reclamation Plants (WRPs), which have a combined design capacity of 28 MGD. Saugus and Valencia serve a population of approximately 180,000 people in Santa Clarita and unincorporated areas. The WRPs utilize tertiary treatment to produce high quality reclaimed water.

Although reclaimed water from the treatment plants meets drinking water standards, the plants do not remove salt. Once the reclaimed water enters the Santa Clara River, it can pose potential problems for downstream agricultural crops if chloride levels are too high.

The largest added source of chloride to the sewer system is salty waste from residential automatic (self-regenerating) water softeners (AWS). The installation of new AWS, that use salt or potassium chloride pellets, has been banned since 2003. However an estimated 6,500 units, representing one in 11 households, are in use in the Santa Clarita Valley.

These water softeners represented the largest source (~30-35%) of chloride other than tap water (~40%). Residential uses other than AWS (~20%) represents another chloride contribution. Business and industrial AWS have been banned since the 1961. Removing all automatic water softeners would be a major step in the battle against chloride and while some additional compliance measures may still be necessary, costs to the community should be much lower than the $350 million projected to build a reverse osmosis treatment plant.

Realizing that a rebate program would be the most economical way to protect the river, the District offered $100 to remove AWS and $150 to remove AWS and replace with a qualified alternative unit. From November 2005 through April 2007 431 units were removed under this incentive program.

On September 22, 2006 the Governor signed Senate Bill 475 (Chapter 393), which gives the District a new tool to help reduce chloride levels. Unlike previous voluntary programs, Senate Bill 475 contains an enforcement component that allows the District to adopt an ordinance requiring removal of existing AWS if majority approval is obtained in a referendum vote.

The most powerful element of the Districts landmark voluntary rebate program is that it provides a platform for public participation in both enforcement (majority referendum) and compensatory elements. The rebate program encourages timely removal by providing for 100% of the reasonable value ($325 to $2,000) before effective date and 75% of the reasonable value after effective date. The program also provides compensation for removal and disposal costs. The earliest effective date that could be set is January 1, 2009. A second tier of the program provides free AWS removal and disposal. It provides free AWS pickup if residents remove the AWS themselves. In addition residents are reimbursed $50 for materials.

The District estimates one quarter of AWS in operation are in rental units. The program provides $100 rebates to residents for removal of rental AWS. An example of the effectiveness of this strategy to reach the rental constituency is Rayne Water. Rayne recently signed an agreement to voluntarily remove approximately 530 rental units. The District is working with other rental providers to enter into similar agreements.

Public Outreach is the central factor the binds these elements into an effective chloride reduction program. Examples of innovative public outreach efforts include: movie theater ads, newspaper ads, water bill inserts, letters to new homeowners, street banners, refuse truck signs and television commercials. Ms. Ghuman concluded the program by showing   an informational television commercial that is currently airing.

For more information please see the District’s web site at or call 1-877-CUT-SALT.

Leave a Reply