Two common minerals in the Arizona soil - calcium and magnesium - create one of the most notable changes in your tap water - water hardness. These tasteless, harmless minerals dissolve in the water, and create what is known as hard water.
Hard water makes up about 85 percent of the nation's drinking water, according to the U.S. Geologic Survey. Water hardness in Mesa ranges from 12 gpg (grains per gallon) to 22 gpg, depending on the water source that serves your area. The white, chalky film that you may find on the faucets or shower doors in your home is evidence of hard water.
Although hard water poses no health risk, it can create numerous challenges for the consumer. For example, the higher the hardness value, the more effort it takes for soap to perform its cleansing action. In addition to reducing the effectiveness of soap, hard water can leave soap deposits in sinks, and leave spots on dishes and glassware. Hard water can also create scaly calcium deposits on faucets, showerheads, and evaporative coolers, as well as the inside of pipes, hot water heaters, and automatic dishwashers. There are numerous commercial cleaning products that can help remove calcium scale build-up, and some soaps are formulated to work better in hard water.
The primary method of reducing water hardness available to the consumer is the installation of an ion exchange water softener. An ion exchange water softener removes hardness (calcium and magnesium ions) by replacing them with sodium, or in some instances potassium. Sodium levels in softened water increase approximately 8 milligrams per liter (mg/L) for each grain of hardness removed. For example, if your water has 12 gpg total hardness, sodium levels will increase 96 mg/L when the water is softened. If your water source has 22 gpg hardness, softened water will contain an additional 176 mg/L of sodium. If you are on a sodium-restricted diet, you may need to discuss with your physician the additional sodium in your softened water.
Because there are so many different types of treatment systems in the marketplace to choose from, we encourage you to thoroughly investigate the performance capabilities of the product before making a purchase. As with any major household purchase, you will want to research the reputation and legitimacy of the company and sales representative that provides the water treatment product. Once a system is installed, it is extremely important that you follow the manufacturer's recommendations, and service the unit regularly.
While you may appreciate the characteristics of softened water, it can harmful to your landscaping. The high sodium content in the water can have adverse effects on plant growth, and may even be toxic to some plants, causing the tips and edges of the leaves to die. Your drip irrigation or landscape watering system should be connected upstream of any water-softening unit.
For information about the water softening process, or how you can improve the taste of your drinking water, contact the Water Quality Services staff at (480) 644-6461.