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Saying they lacked "well-defined guidelines" to prevent high-salt wastewater from entering the city's wastewater system and, ultimately, the groundwater basin, the Hollister City Council this week unanimously voted to ban the installation of self-regenerating water softeners. Offiicials said the ban is one of the few means of achieving compliance with wastewater discharge requirements set forth by the California Regional Water Quality Control Board.

In a report given to City Manager William Avera and presented to the council, Utility Engineer Danny Hillstock said water softeners "contribute signifcantly to the elevated concentration levels of total dissolved solids, chlorides and sodium" in effluent, or wastewater. He said there is an "urgent need" to reduce future discharges of high-saline waste into city facilities, so the city can comply with regional and state requirements about ground water quality.

The new prohibition will not impact residents who are currently using water softeners that treat the local "hard" water with salt, unless their water softener needs replacing, Avera said.

"If you water softener fails, we won't let you put in the old style," he said. "We don't go into hosues to make you take them out, but technically those are all supposed to be permitted." Avera noted that all new tentative maps for housing developments include conditions that traditional, salt-using water softeners may not be installed.