Water hardness reflects the total amount of magnesium and calcium and other natural minerals dissolved in water. The greater the concentration of these minerals in water, the greater is the level of water hardness. This can translate to faster buildup of limescale in water appliances, pipes, and fixtures as well as other negative effects.
That is why many people today use the best water softeners to limit the negative effects of hard water. Unfortunately, even the best water softening product can pose a significant threat to the environment.
Efficiency of Water Softeners
The efficiency of water softeners is a direct reflection of its regeneration capabilities. The rating considers the total amount of grains that can be exchanged for every pound of salt. For example, a water softener with a rating of 5,000 gr/lb. means that the device can process 5,000 grains of water hardness minerals for every pound of salt in the system. The current standard for water softener efficiency is 4,000 gr/lb.
The Impact of Water Softeners on the Environment
In general, you will want a system that can process more grains of hard minerals using as little salt as possible. This will help lessen the impact of salt on the environment. Here are some of the most significant impacts of water softeners on the environment.
Impact on Water
Too much salt in the water can increase water density. This results in the settling of the salt-laden water in the deepest parts of bodies of water. The deeper portions of water bodies have slower current velocities, leading to chemical stratification.
Chemical stratification prevents the mixing of the different chemicals found in water. Dissolved oxygen found in the upper parts of bodies of water will not be able to move towards the bottom parts. This can make it inhospitable for bottom-dwelling aquatic species. The bottom part of a body of water typically contains nutrients. Chemical stratification prevents these nutrients from rising to the top part of the water.
Impact on Soil
Sodium that penetrates soil can initiate an ion exchange reaction. This chemical reaction releases magnesium, potassium, and calcium into the groundwater, while also increasing the rate of mobilization of metals. This results in mineral depletion of the soil. The chemical reaction also changes soil permeability, causing soil to lose its permeable nature. The soil loses its stability, while also reducing its pH. This can have a negative impact on overall soil fertility.
Salts in soil can also affect the natural microorganisms in the ground. This compromises the soil structure and can inhibit natural control mechanisms against soil erosion. There can be an increased sediment volume in runoff. Other effects of excessive salt in the soil include increased soil crusting and welling and reduced electrical conductivity, dispersion, stability, and osmotic potential of the soil.
Impact on Vegetation
Salt has a dehydrating effect on living things, even plant life. Plants can have damaged foliage and retarded growth of the roots because of osmotic stress. Salt can also affect the plant’s ability to take up nutrients from the soil. This can lead to problems in the seeds, stems, flowers, and leaves of the plant. The flowering ability of plants can also be impacted by salt in the soil.
These effects of salt on plant life can lead to plant death. It can also facilitate the colonization of plant species that are more tolerant of salt. The degradation of vegetation can compromise the environment’s ability to process pollutants found in stormwater runoff.
Impact on Aquatic Life
Too much chloride in bodies of water can have an impact on the reproduction, growth, and survival of fish, insects, macroinvertebrates, and amphibians. The stress of too much salt in water can also affect the diversity of aquatic species.
Fish and other aquatic life forms may find it very difficult to obtain the oxygen and nutrients found in water. This is because salt also tends to draw other metals from the ground and into bodies of water. These toxic metals can prevent the effective consumption of nutrients and the absorption of dissolved oxygen in water.
Impact on Wildlife
Mammals and birds are the wildlife that are most affected by excessive salt in soil and water. Salt can crystallize and contaminate the ground that wild mammals forage on. Animals that drink salt-laden water can suffer from dehydration, weakness, and confusion. Small mammals become more vulnerable to predators. This can lead to a reduction in the population of vulnerable species.
Vegetation damage can also affect wildlife. Without plants, herbivores will die because of starvation. Small prey animals will not have the security of vegetation to protect their nests and their young. Animals can also succumb to the elements because they no longer have shelter.
Salt-based water softeners can have a significant impact on both the soil and bodies of water. This can affect plant life, aquatic living things, and wildlife. As such, it would be best to think about safer methods of softening water or reducing the negative effects of hard water.