March 8, 2021

Stevens County Times

Your spot for community news in Stevens County, Minnesota

The importance of good, quality water

Water. Good, clean water is vital to our existence. We use it to drink, feed our pets, wash our clothes and bodies and cook. We also clean with it and use it in appliances both large and small. We love to look at it and play in it in our lakes and rivers. Perhaps this is why water quality has become a topic that is creating a lot of focus, not just in Morris, but throughout the country.

In January, the City of Morris sent a letter to water customers and property owners. The letter was to let people know what is happening with the new water treatment plant and what the new City Code is regarding water softener systems and equipment. One of their recommendations was for people to disconnect any older model softeners and replace them with ‘On Demand” types of softening systems. The Morris City code regarding water reads as follows: “brine wastewater discharge produced from a water softener is prohibited unless the softener is verified to be on demand and properly calibrated.” 

They also asked residents to contact a water softening system company who would be able to assist them if they had questions about their systems.  

Scott Schiesser, president of the Minnesota Water Quality Association (MWQA) clarified some of the questions surrounding the water quality in Morris. In some instances he was in total agreement with the City of Morris, but on other issues he disagreed.

Some background

The city of Morris built the new system to reduce the amount of salt discharged to the sanitary sewer system through water softener systems and equipment. It came about because of a mandate from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to reduce the salt discharge from the sewer ponds into the Pomme de Terre River. Softener salt is one of several ways that chloride gets into our lakes and rivers. Other methods are from salt put on our roadways and fertilizer eroding into the water.

The Minnesota Water Quality Association is also a big advocate for keeping chloride levels down in our natural waterways. Chloride is a permanent pollutant, toxic to fish and aquatic life. About 50 Minnesota water bodies are considered impaired because of excess chloride levels. This is the reason both the City of Morris and the MWQA are working hard to reach a solution for water quality in the community and in the river.

New water treatment plant

Last fall the new Morris water plant was put to work. Tests showed that the new lime treatment system has reduced the hardness level from 45 grains to 5 grains. The water is safe for consumption but Schiesser stated he would not recommend going without a softening  and drinking water system in Morris.

“Where the big misunderstanding comes in,” stated Schiesser “is that to consider water to be soft, you need to reduce the hardness to less than one grain per gallon. Therefore by simply disconnecting current water softeners in the city, consumers may end up having more issues down the road.”

Water that is not softened can build up with spots on glasses and silverware. You will need to use more laundry detergent, hand soap and dish soap to get the suds needed for cleaning. This will increase consumer costs. What you may not be seeing, is the scale built up in water heaters, washing machines, and dishwashers that could lead to costly repair bills and higher utilities bills. Consumers will also feel the difference on the skin and even in their hair. 

MWQA recommendations

Schiesser would recommend two things for Morris residents when it comes to their water. Number 1 would be to have their system inspected to make sure it is running efficiently and properly. If desired they can contact any member of the Minnesota Water Quality Association by checking out the member tab on their website or any local softener company. 

Secondly, Schiesser stated that if you have a time-clock water softener that regenerates at set times, get rid of it. He stated that these waste salt and water when regenerating, sometimes for no reason. He would recommend replacing it with an on-demand softening system that will save water and salt use. 

Those are also two of the recommendations suggested by the City of Morris. However, Schiesser would not agree that consumers should just by-pass or shut down their softener system without another option. He would also recommend the use of solar salt in the softeners.

“Solar salt is simply brine water dried by the sun with nothing added,” he explained. “It is typically very clean and free of anything added to it.”

City water safe to drink

Schiesser added that the water produced by the City of Morris before going through a filtering system is perfectly safe to drink. However, it may not be as palatable as reverse osmosis water. The water from the city will still have some amount of chlorine in it, which sometimes can be tasted. Reverse osmosis water is tastier and makes things like coffee, also taste better, and remove many other potential contaminants  including heavy metals, lead, arsenic and nitrates.

At a City Council meeting last fall, City Manager Blaine Hill stated that the levels of chloride being discharged from the ponds is going down but is still not at the Minnesota Pollution Control regulated levels. Therefore, the city is asking residents to abide by the new city code and change or eliminate their ‘old style’ softening systems. 

One aspect that neither side discusses is the cost to the consumer. The on-demand type of softeners are costly and could be a financial burden to people who already own their water softener. This expense on top of the increase in water rates, could be a reason for some consumers to take baby steps when it comes to changing over to on-demand systems. However, there would be savings due to less water and salt used in the recharging process.

Consumers also need to take into consideration the value of good clean water, especially in our lakes and rivers. It is important for everyone to do their part in preserving this precious resource and keep our water clear of contaminants.

Katie Erdman