What Should Drillers Know about Water Conditioning?
As a reader, you know the name of this publication is National Driller, and that it contains information about all sorts and kinds of drilling. It contains information about water well drilling, oil and gas drilling, geotechnical drilling and geothermal drilling. Not every issue has something about each of these types of drilling, but in a year’s time, the 12 issues published would cover all of them. Most of you readers do at least one of these types of drilling; many of you perhaps do several types, or even all of them. Other readers do water well drilling, for instance, and also install pumps. Some readers will do pump work only. Some of you readers will do water well drilling, water pump installation and service, and water conditioning.
Over the last several years, I have written about water well drilling — including methods and types of rigs. I’ve written about various types of pumps, their good and bad points, and about pump accessories like tanks, pitless adapters and pipe. But, I have never written about water conditioning, a field where I have had experience. So, my next columns will be about that subject.
One thing I am not going to write about is water purification. The groundwater in southeastern Michigan is virtually 100 percent pure. I can’t say the same about surface water, as the recent Flint, Mich., situation indicates. As a longtime friend and state regulator once said to me, “John, virtually all the water in southeastern Michigan is safe to drink right from the discharge pipe. It is not, however, of the quality most people want for their household.” I must agree with my friend. We are not plagued with bacteria, but we are plagued with hardness, iron, sulfur and, on occasion, tannin.
I am aware that readers in other parts of the country face different water quality issues. I know that low pH water is a problem in some areas, and I’m sure there are so-called contaminants in other areas that I am unaware of. Just like drilling methods, pumps and accessories, I can only write about what I have had experience with. So I am going to start with the most common contaminant issue that we have here in southeast Michigan: hardness.
Typical groundwater in my area of southern Michigan is about 20-25 grains hard. I have found water that is much, much harder than this, but the typical well produces water in that grain area. Straight from the pump, this water does not taste bad at all. In fact, it tastes pretty good. You can wash your hands with it, or take a bath or shower, and it will get you clean (along with some soap). But it will require a lot more soap than soft water. In the old days – say, more than 70 years ago — most country homes, especially farms, had a cistern water system. This was a complete second water system pumping rain water from a cistern or other type of tank. I wrote about this a few columns back. The housewives of that era really liked to do washing in rainwater. My mother was one of them. The fact that the rainwater was likely contaminated with bird droppings and other foreign objects did not seem to bother them. Of course, we never, ever drank the rainwater. So, perhaps the fact that it was not absolutely pure was not a big factor. The rainwater was also iron free, a large advantage over raw well water.
As years went by and people stopped building cisterns, a way to soften well water became desirable. Thus, the invention of the water softener. I believe most water at the residential level is softened by what is called ion exchange. All residential water softeners (and commercial ones for that matter) contain a softening mineral. This has changed over time, but in 2018, it looks like small glass or plastic beads that are kind of bronze in color. When water passes over this mineral or through a bed of it, the mineral attracts hard ions in the water to, in effect, take them over and replace them with soft ions. The most common hard ion is calcium, which is our major hardness contaminant. The usual soft ion is sodium, which is found in sodium chloride or salt — more about that later.
So, if we place softener mineral in a tank or container and pass hard water through it, it will almost magically become softened. The mineral bed will also strain silt, sand and mineral particulates to a certain extent. A water softener was never intended to be a water strainer, although it may end up doing that — more on this in another column. Virtually all of these softener minerals are from one source and claims of miracle minerals are just that — claims. One mineral has just as much softening ability as another mineral. A given amount of mineral has the ability to soften a specific volume of water depending on its hardness. If we are using 45-grain water, we can only soften about half as much as we can with 22-grain hard water using the same amount of mineral. At that point, we recondition or regenerate the softening mineral; we do not throw it away. Next time, I will write about the reconditioning process and how it is accomplished.
I’m writing this on a rainy Saturday in early June. We’ve had a lot of rain and the lawns, including mine, are nice and green. Some people are mowing every four days. I am mowing every six or seven days, as I do not fertilize my lawn. The local farmers’ corn crop, although planted a bit late, is looking tremendous. Yesterday, I saw corn that was hip high. That means, according to the old saying, “knee high by the Fourth of July,” we have a good crop around here. Of course, that saying predates the seed corn we have today. ’Til next time, work hard and enjoy life too.
For more John Schmitt columns, visit www.nationaldriller.com/schmitt.