DISCOVERY BAY -- This far east Contra Costa town has had some hard times dealing with its hard water.
But that soon may change.
Discovery Bay's Community Services District board approved new rules last week banning the installation of water softeners that use sodium, potassium, or chloride and discharge the salt solution into sewer lines.
The new ordinance, which will take effect in a month, says consumers can still use membrane-based or carbon-based water softeners. Also, those with existing salt-based units can keep them until it's time to install a new one.
Discovery Bay has faced fines from the state over the years for the high salinity levels its wastewater contains when it is discharged into Old River.
Board member Kevin Graves, who sits on the district's water and wastewater committee, says the town is just above the state levels and works closely with officials.
"They understand that it's a hard limit to reach, but with new homes and development, they won't be as flexible," Graves said.
In 2011, Discovery Bay accrued $3,000 in fines by the state's Regional Water Quality Control Board for having too much salinity in its discharged water, but no fines in 2012, general manager Rick Howard said. The district has not heard about fines for 2013, though it went over close to the same amount as 2011, Howard said.
The hope, officials say, is that getting rid of the softeners will improve the environment and save ratepayers money.
"This is going to help us protect the Delta ecology and be responsible for those waters in our own backyard," Graves said.
Unlike other Bay Area towns and agencies that draw water from aboveground sources such as the Delta or the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, Discovery Bay's water comes solely from ground wells.
Gregory Harris, an engineer with Herwit Engineers, who works for the district, explains that water isn't as pure and already starts with some minerals in it that make it feel hard. When combined with the salt from people and water softeners, the brine level in the collected wastewater exceeds state levels.
Last year, Discovery Bay engineers conducted a study to determine possible origins of the salty wastewater. After testing the softeners of 60 voluntary residents for a few weeks, both with and without water softeners in use, Harris said it was determined that the amount of wastewater brine lessened by about 28 percent without the softeners.
"The research showed there was a direct relationship with the softeners and the salinity," Graves said.
Though not an attention-grabbing topic in the Bay Area, the water softener issue has been examined for the past few years at the state level.
Santa Clarita County became the first state municipality to ban water softeners in 2008. In 2009, California authorized local agencies be allowed to impose bans on water softeners if it is found to protect water quality.
"It's been a contentious issue in the Central Valley for years," Harris said.
After Discovery Bay's ordinance is implemented, the district plans to launch an information campaign telling residents and future home contractors about the rules.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.