Salinity FAQs
What is Salinity?Why is it a challenge?How do we measure salts?What causes salinity?What is the impact of salinity on the community?How can we manage salts?What can we do to help?What type of water treatment system should I use?Why do you recommend disconnecting salt-based water softeners?Do I have other alternatives to soften my water?Can salt-based water softeners eliminate chlorine taste or odor from water?Does water conservation make salt accumulation worse?
What is Salinity?  
Salinity is the presence of inorganic ions or compounds dissolved in water or soil.  The most common ions in water are sodium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, carbonate, bicarbonate, sulfate and nitrate, which we commonly refers as salts. 
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Why is it a challenge?  
Salinity is a silent threat of enormous proportions.  Salt in the past had led to the fall of civilizations.  If left alone, it will impact our future water resources resulting in costly treatment before water could be used for human, agricultural or industrial consumption.  Solutions in the Central Valley depend on the development and implementation of effective land use and water supply.  Raising awareness of this issue and researching for solutions is a must.
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How do we measure salts?  
An easy way to determine the amount of salts is to measure its electrical conductivity (EC) in µmhos/cm (micromhos per centimeter) which is the ability of a liquid to carry an electrical current.  This ability depends on the presence of free ions.  The higher the amount of salts in a liquid or soil, the higher the EC.  Another way to measure salts in water is through the total dissolved solids (TDS) in mg/L which measures the dissolved portion of solids in water, including volatile and non-volatile compounds.
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What causes salinity?  
Natural occurrence:  Salinity occurs naturally from saline springs, erosion of saline geological formations, native runoff or weathering of rock minerals.

Irrigated agriculture:  Salts concentrate in irrigated soils through the process of evaporation.  Further irrigation of the same soil leaches salt into the ground, creeks or rivers.

Confined animal facilities:  Salts concentrate in disposal lagoons or soils where evaporation and percolation occurs.

Land discharge processes:  Salts concentrate in land where disposal of industrial processing waste occurs.

Urban Contribution:  Salts are a result of using any type of chemicals for daily household, commercial or industrial sanitation.  Common everyday activities such as washing hands with soaps, doing laundry, sanitizing commercial buildings or rinsing a processed product can add salt to the wastewater discharge of each household, commercial or industrial business.

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What is the impact of salinity on the community?  
Threatens water resources and supply. Excess salts can accumulate on surface and groundwater resulting in water not suitable for consumption or agricultural uses.

Decreases crop yield.
Salty water results in a decline of agricultural productivity related to saline soils which in high concentrations could be toxic to certain plants or could restrict the plant’s uptake of nutrients.

Limits beneficial uses.
Salts pass through conventional wastewater treatment systems.  Excessive salts in recycled water limits re-use opportunities.

Adds costs to utilities and threatens economic growth.
Increasing costs for treatment of salts in water and wastewater could be passed on to the customer, resulting in added costs and economic hardship for the entire community.

Shorten life of appliances
Salt deposits caused by excessive ions in water (hard water) could shorten the life of your appliances such as water heaters, coffee makers or water fixtures such as faucets, shower heads and water pipes.

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How can we manage salts?  
There is not one common solution.  Wastewater treatment facilities can not economically treat salts from urban contribution.  If we do nothing today, salts will continue to accumulate in our water basin and will make our future water supply not suitable for human or agricultural consumption.  Public education will raise awareness of the problem; funding for research is necessary for interim and long-term solutions.
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What can we do to help?  

Conservation is key
The less you use, the less you put down the drain.

Choose liquid over powder detergents
Fillers on powder detergents add unnecessary salts to the wastewater produced when laundering clothes. 

Use the minimum amount needed of household cleaning products
Read product’s instructions and avoid excess application of household or personal cleaning products when possible.

Choose dryer sheets over liquid fabric softeners
Avoid adding additional salts to the water used on your laundry.

Choose moping pads instead of a mop and bucket of water
Sweep floors and use dry products with as little water as possible

Use organic compost instead of chemical fertilizers
Chemical fertilizers leach down to the ground quicker.  Organic compost slowly releases nutrients requiring less application each year.

Disconnect self-regenerating salt-based water softeners at your home
Salt-based water softeners seem to take care of hard water problems at your home but cause a different problem down the drain.  Salty water from the regeneration of these appliances is discharged to the sewer resulting in salts that are not treated and ending up in a body of water or the ground. 

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What type of water treatment system should I use?  
The City provides its customers with water that meets strict federal, state and local standards. Use of water treatment systems is not necessary.  If you still choose to have a water treatment system, select the one appropriate for your needs and less impacting to the environment.
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Why do you recommend disconnecting salt-based water softeners?  
The most common and least expensive water treatment system are salt-based water softeners.  They are commonly used to avoid water spots or scale on pipes and water heaters caused by the excess of minerals in water (salts).  Brine (water and common salt) is used to recharge the resin that catches all the undesirable ions that causes the water spots.  The brine is discharged to the sewer system each time this recharge occurs.  Salt can not be removed using conventional treatment at the wastewater treatment plant, passing through and making its way to the ground, groundwater or surface water.
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Do I have other alternatives to soften my water?  
You have to ask yourself if you really need to soften your water.  Some areas in Fresno (specifically in the northeast area) have very soft water and installing a water softener could damage your water pipes and plumbing fixtures because soft water tends to be more corrosive than hard water.
Consider replacing your salt-base system with a reverse osmosis (RO) system and have it serviced on a regular schedule.

If you still choose to install a salt-based water softener system, select those that recharge on demand rather than those that recharge based on time.  In addition, limit the areas where you want the water softened, such as specific for the water heater only instead of a whole house water softening system.

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Can salt-based water softeners eliminate chlorine taste or odor from water?  
No, water softeners do not eliminate odors nor taste.  If your concern is how the water tastes, looks or smells you could choose a variety of filters that will serve that purpose.  Make sure they are serviced or replaced on a timely schedule to get the best of their use.
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Does water conservation make salt accumulation worse?  
No, it does not.  There is a difference between concentration and mass generated.  If you have one ounce of salt in 2 gallons of water and one ounce of salt in 1 gallon of water, you will have a more concentrated solution in the 1 gallon example.  However, the amount (or mass) of salt is the same in each case.
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