California Inland Empire bans softeners

LISLE, ILL. — A ban of water softeners by California’s Inland Empire Utilities Agency could lead to search warrants and intrusive home inspections against residents, and it is not likely to achieve its goals, the not-for-profit Water Quality Association warned.

The association asked the IEUA to put the law on hold and listen to the voices of area residents and experts.

“Based on nearby experience, if this is enforced, residents under the IEUA will need to get used to the idea of a knock on the door from the ‘wrench police’,” said Peter J. Censky, executive director of WQA. “The agency rushed through an ordinance that will lead the government into people’s basements and garages while not even accomplishing what they set out to do.”

In mid-July, members of IEUA passed an ordinance to ban residents, in areas the agency controls, from putting in a customary water softener in their own homes. Before the meeting, the agency called on only supporters to attend and did not provide useful notice of its intent to the public, Censky said.

Depending on how local municipalities would enforce the ordinance, residents could face big fines or be charged as criminals for putting in softeners. WQA sent letters today informing local municipalities of the problems with the ordinance and asked that elected officials work cooperatively on the issue.

Censky said the ordinance would not measurably help solve the problem of salinity that the area is facing. Even the IEUA acknowledges that at least 90% of salinity comes from sources other than softeners. Censky pointed to the experiences in Santa Clarita, Calif., where a similar ban failed to achieve adequate reductions in salinity. Residents there are facing huge increases in water fees, despite earlier promises that a local softener ban would keep costs down.

This week, the Santa Clarita water agency sent letters to 2,500 residents who it “suspected” of harboring water softeners, according to a press release from district. The agency vows that “home inspections will be conducted for residents” not responding to the letters. Fines up to $1,000 are also being threatened.

“For government to make law-abiding citizens feel like criminals and force its way into people’s homes is a disturbing step that should not be taken lightly,” Censky said.

The association and local water treatment professionals have been meeting with IEUA staff and board members in the past, but most were not told about the meeting at which the ban was passed. Instead, apparently only supporters of the ban were encouraged to attend.

“As a result, the hearing was conducted in a way that incorrectly gave the impression of unanimous support,” wrote Jones Day, an international law firm retained by WQA, in a letter to the IEUA. “This process was undemocratic and violates the spirit of open hearing laws.”

The firm and WQA said the process should be restarted and every concerned party brought to the table. They noted that when a bill that may have restricted softeners statewide was recently brought forward, hundreds of Inland Empire residents emailed their legislators in opposition.

“The area needs a total solution that takes into account every aspect of the issue and listens to everyone’s concerns,” Censky said. “The water treatment industry has always worked to be part of the solution. If we all go back to the drawing board, we can help find the answers.”

By banning the installation of new softeners, the IEUA would also prevent residents from exchanging older devices for modern equipment that discharges far less salt. Further, softeners provide many independently proven environmental benefits, such as helping extend the life of major appliances and clothes, which helps keep landfills from overfilling.

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