Water Quality & System Information : Water Hardness & Water Softeners

Hard Water & Water Softeners

Hard water is water that has a high mineral content and is formed when water filters through deposits of limestone and chalk which are largely made up of calcium and magnesium carbonates. High levels of calcium can clog pipes with mineral build-up left behind as water flows through the pipes. 

Hard water is a very common problem throughout Texas and can result in the following: 

• Bathtub rings and/or soap deposits in sinks and bathtubs 
• Spots on dishes or shower doors 
• Scaly deposits inside faucets and showerheads 
• Reduced foaming and cleaning abilities of shampoo, soaps and detergents 

Hard water is not a health concern, but it is not aesthetically pleasing either. Water hardness is measured in grains per gallon (gpg) or milligrams per liter (mg/l). 1 gpg equals 17.1 mg/l. Water is considered hard when it exceeds 3 grains per gallon. 

Brushy Creek Water Treatment Facility Operators run hardness tests on the District’s potable water on a weekly basis. The District’s water on average is considered hard on a hardness scale. It is just a little bit harder than City of Austin water. Water hardness information is updated on the District’s website every week and can be found at: 

Water Softeners

A water softener system works by exchanging positively charged hardness minerals (calcium and magnesium) with positively charged softness minerals (sodium or potassium). This exchange of minerals softens the water. 

A water softener can improve the aesthetic qualities of household water. For example, soap products perform better in softer water. But a water softener does not improve the safety or quality of water as it relates to health. Most water softeners exchange sodium for existing calcium and magnesium in the water and therefore, increase the sodium content of the water. The sodium increase in softened water might be a concern if you are on a sodium-restricted diet and you may want to consult your physician prior to purchasing a system. Also, there is evidence that softened water might be corrosive to certain metallic pipe materials. 

There are currently three basic types of ion transfer softeners. (1) An automatic softener flushes out and replaces hard ions with soft ions at certain time intervals; (2) demand initiated regeneration (DIR) which regenerates only when soft water has run out. This system is similar to backwashing a pool filter and uses less salt since it adjusts to the amount of water used as opposed to the automatic type; and (3) portable exchange in which a homeowner rents a tank and has a regenerated resin. When the resin no longer exchanges ions the tank is returned to the company and regenerated there. 

Setting Up your Softener

Check the owner's manual to set your particular water softener dials. First, know how much your resin tank can hold. If you're not sure, measure the height and diameter of the tank and then call your manufacturer for the information. 

Know the degree of hardness in your water by getting your water tested. This is important because you could be using either excess salt or not enough salt in your system. Referring to your owner's manual set the proper dial to the correct hardness level. Besides saving money on salt blocks, setting the dial according to degree of water hardness will also protect your underground water supply. The degree of hardness can be found on the District’s website as mentioned above. 

Study controls and operations outlined in your owner's manual. As most filters are automatic, the controls are simple. Make sure your filter's clock is set correctly for time of day, because if the time is off, your filter will run at the wrong time, forcing it to go into a by-pass mode and you'll be using unfiltered water. Set the Day Cycle Dial (that rotates counterclockwise) that checks how many times the filter will backwash within a 12-day cycle. The red pointer (stationary) notes the current day. Also, preset time of day for the water softener to go off. 

Set to bypass when watering outdoors. Again, refer to your owner's manual for specific instructions for your particular unit. The purpose of bypassing is to preserve treated water when you use water for watering plants and lawns outdoors. 

Always remember to:

  • Check the holding tank periodically to see if salt needs refilling.
  • Check to see how long your regeneration cycle lasts and be careful not to interrupt the cycle. 
  • Check the District’s website to ensure that hardness level has not changed.