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CITY COUNCIL AGENDA ITEM NO. 20

Meeting Date: June 24, 2003

Subject/Title: Council Review of Code Requirements and City Policy Concerning Water Softeners.

Submitted by: Community Development Department, M. Oshinsky/L. Kidwell
Approved by: John Stevenson, City Manager

PREVIOUS ACTION
At the City Council Meeting of May 27, 2003 Council requested a review of the City’s code requirements and the policies concerning water softeners. Staff had previously spoken with Mayor Swisher concerning complaints he had received. The complaints and staff’s response is as follows;

• When City staff was contacted to determine who could provide an approved water softener, it is alleged that staff provided only one referral. The facts are that for probably a six-month period of time there was only one manufacturer that produced a certified single tank residential water softener that could provide the flow rates required by code. Today this is no longer the case; there are several manufacturers that produce certified single tank residential water softeners. There have always been many dual water softeners systems from several manufacturers that could meet our code requirements.
• That the City’s requirements are too restrictive and do not allow for personal choice in efficiency and cost. This is a more philosophical question that really begs the question how far dose government go in regulating how we live or daily lives. It is our contention that there is benefit for everyone in compliance with the code but there are areas in Brentwood where lower water pressure issues would be greatly exacerbated by installing undersized water softeners.

BACKGROUND
When talking about water softeners in Brentwood, there are several historic facts that must be discussed. Those facts are;

• Brentwood’s water is very hard.
• The majority of homes in Brentwood have water softeners installed on their water system.
• There are areas in Brentwood where water pressure is a serious concern.
• Many pre 1993 water softeners have instillation problems. Typical installation problems are:
o Improperly installed electrical supply, creating electrical hazards.
o Discharge piping directly connected to waste piping, creating the potential hazard for backflow into the City water supply.
• The City in 1993 adopted an ordinance amendment requiring that builders of all new homes pre install, in an appropriate location, the electrical connection, the waste piping and water supply loop necessary for a water softener instillation.
• In the course of an investigation, for a restraint of trade case, the Contra Costa County District Attorney requested a code review of water softeners from our office. The case concerned some of the companies that sell equipment in Brentwood and had to do with misrepresenting code compliance.

Conducting a thorough code review revealed several requirements that until this time were not considered. Those code requirements are as follows;

• The code requires that the water softener not reduce the pressure in the house by more than 15% P.S.I. In other words the water softener cannot restrict the volume and pressure of water available to any given plumbing fixture irregardless of weather other fixtures are flowing water at the same time. This requirement insures that during periods of high peak demand that there will be no reduction in water quality, volume and pressure. In real terms what this means is that when the dishwasher and the washing machine are using water, and you are in the shower, if someone flushes the toilet there will be no appreciable reduction in water temperature, pressure and quality. Thus the water supply system works as designed.
• The code requires that the water softener meet a minimum efficiency level of salt used in regeneration. This requirement keeps unnecessary salt out of the sewage treatment plant and ultimately the environment.
• The code requires that the flow rate and salt efficiency rate be certified by an approved testing agency using nationally recognized standards.

The flow rate seems to be the issue that has created the most controversy. Until we began to require water softeners with flow rates consistent with system requirements, the only criteria it seemed homeowners considered was cost. As an example, it was not unusual to see a 6-gallon per minute water softener installed in a house that calculations indicated a need for 18 gallons per minute. When we first required calculated flow rates there was only one manufacture that produced a certified single tank water softener with the capacity to meet the higher flow rates. There are now several companies that produce compliant water softeners at the highest flow rates. Unfortunately high flow rates however mean higher costs. To purchase an appropriately sized compliant water softener, it could cost approximately $2,000 and up. To purchase an undersized water softener compliant or not, you could spend well less than $1,000. There are lower cost alternatives that comply; two undersized water softeners when installed properly can meet the higher flow rate requirements.

The Building Division issues many water softener permits each month for compliant systems. We know there are many systems installed each month without permits and probably are not compliant. We know because occasionally we catch them and the systems are usually not compliant. This trend has gotten better over time. We now get fewer complaints than we used to from compliant companies about companies that don’t get permits. The legitimate companies lose a percentage of their business to outlaw companies because they cannot compete in price.

What are the alternatives and what are the advantages and disadvantages? The alternatives include;

1. Continue to enforce the code as it was adopted by the State.
The advantages are;
• The City cannot be criticized that it dose not enforce the code.
• The buyer is likely to get what he or she has paid for.
• The water supply system will operate as designed and intended and will not exacerbate low water pressure problems.
• That if the home is sold subsequent buyers will have purchased a compliant water softener system that will perform properly under all circumstances.
The disadvantages are;
• The household that dose not need the capacity because of family size or minimal water usage must pay for the added capacity.
• The homeowners that cannot afford the more costly systems have to make a decision as to weather they are going to go without a water softener, install a noncompliant system without a permit or sacrifice other needs to install a code compliant system.

2. Require that water softeners be installed in all in homes at time of construction.
The advantages are;
• All water softeners will be inspected and installed to code.
• Theoretically there could be some cost savings because of the economy of scale.
The disadvantages are;
• Putting water softeners in all houses will put incrementally more salt into the sewage treatment plant and the environment.
• Adds minimally to the cost of a home.

3. Continue to issue permits but ignore the flow requirements.
The advantages are;
• This would allow personal choice in flow rates.
• Could save the homeowners money.
• Would insure that the water softeners are installed properly.
The disadvantages are;
• The City could be sued for not enforcing the provisions of the code.
• Water softener non-compliance would become a disclosure issue upon sale.
• Household water systems may not operate as designed.
• System water pressure problems may be unacceptably low.
• Council and Staff will get more complaints about water pressure.

4. Amend the code to exempt water softeners from the requirements to obtain permits.
The advantages are;
• The City would not have to reduce water softener code requirements.
• The City would no longer have to look at water softeners.
• This would allow personal choice in flow rates.
• Could save the homeowners money.
The disadvantages are;
• The city would no longer be able to insure that water softener installations were safe and to code.
• Household water systems may not operate as designed.
• Council and Staff will get more complaints about water pressure.
• The water softener non-compliance would become a disclosure issue upon sale.

In conclusion, Staff believes that continuing to enforce the code as it presently exists adds value to our housing stock and makes the most sense.

FISCAL IMPACT Fiscal impacts are negligible regardless of the option chosen. Water softener permits provide less than one percent of our revenues.

Attachment
Requirements for Water Softeners

City Administration
City of Brentwood City Council
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Brentwood, CA 94513
(925) 516-5440
Fax (925) 516-5441
E-mail allcouncil@brentwoodca.gov