Salty Water: Unhealthy Response To Hard Water Has Big Potential Impact

Around 80% of the entire country suffers from the presence of hard water. While not physically dangerous to consume, hard water causes the buildup of soap residues and makes laundering clothing just a little bit more difficult, not to mention the fact that many people dislike the way it tastes. Water softeners are employed to balance the hardness and make water more palatable, but it seems their use may have caused a new problem in Minnesota.

The area surrounding the Zumbro River in southeastern Minnesota has been reportedly measuring chloride levels in the 270 ppm range, despite the fact that Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s water quality standards for chloride are set at 230 ppm. Fingers are being pointed at water softeners, which use chloride to properly soften the region’s very hard water. In fact, a recent study discovered that water softeners introduce 140,000 metric tons of salt (chloride) into Minnesota’s environments every year — nearly one-third the amount contributed by road salt during the heavy winters.

Hard water is “hard” because it is rich in minerals like magnesium, calcium, and iron; the presence of these minerals originates from the rocks that freshwater flows through. Fixing this so-called “problem” may be more trouble than it’s worth, since chloride can be detrimental to plant life.

A quick Google search reveals a flurry of greenhouses within the chloride-rich zone, presenting a potential risk for growers. If they possess indoor grow rooms, they may be able to control and correct a lot of environmental factors (such as through the use of Fluorescent, HID, or LED lights); however, if the natural source of water is highly concentrated in chloride as a result of the salt deposits from water softeners, the health of the plants will suffer.

Too much chloride can cause the same effects as salt damage: scorched leaf margins, smaller and thicker leaves, and stunted overall growth of the plant. Minnesota is one of the leading producers of corn in the country, so chloride could be devastating to the state’s economy should it affect the growth of crops.

David Lane, the environmental manager of the nearby Rochester’s Water Reclamation Plant (which performs most of the work in maintaining the health of the Zumbro River), isn’t worried.

“We want to try to give ourselves as much of a safety buffer as possible. The downstream monitoring shows there’s not an issue. We want to make sure it stays that way.”

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