A temporary installation of water softener buoys on Lake Wingra raises awareness that salt-based softeners pollute freshwater. Every bag of salt that we put into water softener passes through our waste water treatment plants and into local fresh water.
Softener salt used in the Madison area doesn't enter Lake Wingra, but it is discharged with treated wastewater into Badfish Creek and Badger Mill Creek where it harms freshwater organisms. Over 40 wastewater treatment plants in Wisconsin's hardwater regions are operating under chloride variances (meaning they discharge more salt than we know is healthy into fresh water). When the DNR grants variances, they ask wastewater treatment plants to educate community members around salt pollution and reduce salt use. Meanwhile, we're salting our freshwater.
Increase your softener's efficiency or go salt-free
Optimizing softeners for household water use and local water hardness can reduce salt use by 25% to 50%. If your household softener uses 1 bag of salt per month or more, have a professional tune it up or replace it with a high-efficiency model.
If you live in Dane County, visit Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District's website to find a service provider who has completed training on salt reduction and softener efficiency.
Take this Water Softener Self-Diagnostic to see if your softener is Salt Wise.
Why get a salt-efficient softener when you can go saltless? Saltless softeners are actually water conditioners because they prevent hard water scale without adding sodium, aka "softening" water. For those who are accustomed to soft water, it will likely be an adjustment. To learn more, check out the results of a one-year market research study in Waterloo, Ontario. We're currently working on a case study video of a City of Madison homeowner who went salt-free 12 years ago and won't go back.
Not a Hard Topic: Water Softeners
Check out the City of Madison's Every Engineering Podcast episode in which Water Resources Engineer Phil Gaebler and Allison Madison, WI Salt Wise, discuss water softeners and the impacts they have on our fresh water. (Total length = 21 minutes.)
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