Voice of the River

Save Money, Save Water

In 2015, the American Water Works Association named Big Sky’s drinking water the best-tasting in the country. Pulled from deep underground, our water contains sweet-tasting minerals like calcium and magnesium. These minerals are perfectly healthy for human consumption, but they can wreak havoc on our home appliances. They can shorten the lifespan of everything from showerheads to hot-water heaters, and they give our teapots and faucets that unattractive white, crusty coating. Because of these minerals, our water is known as “hard water.”

To soften it, we often install filtration systems that utilize salt, but the time has come for a change. Why, you might wonder, should you care at all about your water-filtration system? As long as the water is safe to drink, what is the difference?

Great question.

For one, salt-based filtration systems waste tons of water—literally. The Wilson Hotel recently installed a new, salt-less system and their water savings are estimated at 250,000 gallons annually. That’s a lot of water, and a huge cost savings to boot.

In a salt-based system, healthy calcium and magnesium are replaced by equal parts of sodium, and the significant volume of water used in this process is flushed down the drain. This produces gallons of waste before any water ever reaches our showers, washers or toilets, and turns our high-quality drinking water into unpalatable salt water. Users of salt-water systems must then install another filtration system under their sinks which removes the just-added salt, as well as all of the beneficial minerals in the water, creating water that lacks any mineral content and isn’t healthy for long-term consumption. The result is a series of filtration systems that waste a significant amount of water, are costly to maintain and provide poor-quality drinking water.

So, what is the solution? There is now an innovative water-conditioning media that doesn’t require salt or the consumption of water. With this system, hard water undergoes nucleation in the pressure vessel, transforming calcium bicarbonate into an aragonite form of calcium carbonate crystals. In layman’s terms, this salt-free system softens water without removing beneficial minerals or wasting water. You’ll get all the “best-tasting drinking water in the country” without any waste. They call that a win-win situation.

“Residential users can expect to save about $500 a year,” says Peter Manka, principal water resource engineer at Alpine Water in Big Sky. “Salt-free systems cost a fraction of what salt-based softeners cost. There’s less maintenance, no moving parts, no salt to buy and less time and energy wasted. Plus they’ll be using—and paying for—less water.”

According to Manka, these systems save about 10,000 gallons of water and 800 pounds of salt per average household annually. With the savings in the cost of water, salt, filter replacements and maintenance, replacing your salt based system can pay for itself in three to four years.

Additionally, that’s a lot less salt. While the Wilson is estimated to save 250,000 gallons of water annually, they’ll also save up to 50,000 pounds of salt. When salt is used to treat water, a portion of that salt ends up back in the environment, contaminating surface water, decreasing the effectiveness of our wastewater treatment system and potentially polluting the watershed. Salt in these quantities is not naturally occurring, and is therefore another unwanted result of salt-intensive softening.

While salt-water softening is still the norm, numerous commercial and residential properties in Big Sky have installed this relatively new salt-free technology. And why not? It saves money, it saves water and it improves overall watershed health and resilience. They call that a win-win-win.

This article first appeared in the January 17 edition of Explore Big Sky.


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