Fresh Water Radio: How to Solve Common Water Quality Problems

Posted by John Woodard on November 11, 2019

Welcome to the first episode of Fresh Water Radio! We’ve created a podcast to give our customers and readers a better glimpse into our company, our industry, and passion for water filtration. In our first episode, John Woodard, Master Water Specialist, dives into who Fresh Water Systems is as a company and how we strive to help people achieve the water quality they desire. 

Who is Fresh Water Systems? 

David Wood: So, start at the beginning. Exactly who is Fresh Water Systems? What do we do here? 

John Woodard: Well, to give you an idea of who we are today, I’ll start by giving you a little history of the company. Fresh Water Systems began in the late 1980s, early 1990s in California. At the time, it was very fashionable to buy water. It was the craze. At the time, the bottled water delivery business was just going through the roof. So, two guys got together and saw an opportunity to save people money and hassle by offering a filter that would provide the same quality water as these five-gallon deliveries of bottled water. And they got very successful literally driving around chasing the bottled water delivery trucks. After the trucks delivered the water, these guys would walk in and say, “Hey, I got a better idea for you, and then I can save you some money.” So Fresh Water Systems began simply as a water filtration business. 

Over time that’s evolved, we’ve got more in-depth with kind of office water filtration, coffee and espresso filtration products, light commercial and restaurant applications. Eventually, Fresh Water Systems Got into residential water treatment, providing water softeners and reverse osmosis systems. Over the course of 15 years, we’ve just continued to grow. 

Now, in the early 2000s, when the internet became a thing, Fresh Water Systems was very progressive. We probably were one of the first companies in the water treatment business to have a web presence. We were selling water filters online and the business just jumped through the roof. People were buying filters online like crazy. So early in the 2000s, the two guys actually split the company in half, one fellow in California and kept the traditional water treatment business and the other guy brought the eCommerce side of the business to South Carolina. We are now a full-service eCommerce water filtration product venue. But, more importantly, we're developing a wholesale side of our company where we provide products for other eCommerce water filter businesses. Local water treatment specialists are coming to us for products. As this company evolves, we’re finding more and more places we can support the industry. 

What is a Master Water Specialist? 

David: You've been here for quite a while. Let's learn a little bit more about you and exactly how you got your expertise. How does a person become a Master Water Specialist? 

John: A Master Water Specialist is a certification that comes from the National Water Quality Association (WQA). Master means you’ve reached the highest level of certification that they offer and that's through hands-on journeyman type experience as well as textbook and classroom type instruction. The certification program from the Water Quality Association, frankly, was to bring legitimacy to our industry. We were perceived early on as the white shoe, white belt, snake oil salespeople that would trick you out of your money and, and show up and put a water softener in. To establish credence to who we are as an industry, the WQA came up with the certification program.

I got an opportunity to go to work for a company that manufactured reverse osmosis systems in the 90s, and I haven't looked back since.

Why does the water filtration industry matter? 

David: So, around here you’ll hear “Everyone deserves fresh water” thrown around. That's our company motto. Why do you think that motto matters as it pertains to the water filtration industry?

John: Well, I think one of the things that's given me a lot of joy in this industry is as human beings, or as any life form on this planet, we require water to survive. And the planet has an abundance of water. But if you break it down, the majority of the water on the planet, like 97% of that water is seawater. Now as living organisms, we can't survive on seawater. So we need fresh water. So out of our entire planet, the 3% that's left is freshwater. And 80% of that is frozen on our polar ice caps in our glaciers. So it boils down to less than 1% of the freshwater on the planet is usable for us. And we don't get any more to deal with. So the water filtration industry is helping maintain that 1% so that we can use it as humans. 

Humans, as you know, don't treat water very nicely. But over the past a hundred years we've started to pay attention to what we do to water. We have EPA guidelines, we have restrictions on what companies can dump into our water supply, but it's still a process to get the water usable again. Mother nature is part of that process. Water evaporates turns into clouds, precipitates back to the earth. That's the hydrologic cycle, and that's mother nature's way of cleaning water. Well, even through that process, we still have to clean minerals and contaminants and even chemicals from the water so we can use it. And I've always felt good about the fact that our work is to provide people with a way to clean their water up so that they can use it, because we truly believe that everyone deserves fresh water.

How does water filtration help conservation? 

David: Conservation is a big thing stressed here as far as company culture. What are your thoughts on bottled water? 

John: Well, bottled water is filtered water. But the problem with bottled water is that frankly, it isn’t environmentally responsible. Bottled water comes in a plastic bottle and those plastic bottles are one of the biggest environmental issues we have today as a planet. That’s another reason we are so pro-water filtration. You can have stellar water quality and pour it into a reusable container rather than sending endless bottles into our landfills and our oceans. We have to be good stewards of our environment. That’s our philosophy in this company, we need to be good stewards with everything we do. 

What are the most common water contaminants? 

David: So, say the average person wants to start filtrating their water and not relying on bottled water as much. What are the most common issues and water contaminants we come across?

John: Well, if this person lives on a municipal water supply, the city is going to purify the water and make it safe. Most municipalities do a pretty good job at treating water and maintaining EPA requirements and, and contaminant levels. But, even still, there's probably trace chemicals, volatile organic compounds, there certainly can be trace pharmaceuticals. We see that in the news. 

But for those on city water, the most common water contaminant is chlorine. Chlorine is used by municipal water treatment plants to disinfect water, but it leaves water a bad taste and odor behind. So, we often help people get the chlorine taste and smell out of their water. More and more communities are using chloramines to disinfect water, which also create unpleasant tastes and odors in the water. So, we catch those, and some of the other trace contaminants, like volatile organic compounds. 

How do we approach helping people improve their water quality?

John: Before you can really help people, you've got to back up a little bit and understand what is in that person’s water. Before we can help people we have to understand what the cause of that bad odor and smell is. It could be chlorine, but it could be something else. When you step into groundwater and private wells, lots of minerals and other contaminants come into play. If we're on city water and the question is, “Hey, I don't like the taste of my water,” chances are it's chlorine or chloramines . But anytime we are looking at a water supply and the, I want to see an analysis. We need to test the water to make sure that we're going to implement solutions that solve the problems.

It's important to understand what the cause of the odor, the taste, or the color of the water might be. And sometimes we're solving problems that you can't see, there’s no color to it. That's why testing water is very important, especially if it's a private well. You may have contaminants like arsenic or bacteria that don’t have any color to them. A prime example of where water is really difficult in this country is West Texas. West Texas doesn't have a lot of surface water. It's all groundwater, meaning it's coming up from underground aquifers. That means the water has traveled through all layer after layer of rock and clay and chemicals to get to these aquifers.

So when they drill wells and they pull water up out of those aquifers, it's got lots of contaminants Water is the universal solvent and it erodes everything it comes in contact with. So if the water sources groundwater, it's got a lot higher potential to be loaded with minerals, bacteria, and contaminants. 

What are the most common well water problems?

David: In the time I’ve been at Fresh Water, we’ve run across a lot of problems that go along with well water. What are some of the issues there? What are some of the solutions?

John: So I said this earlier, but I'll say it again. It really when we're talking about private well water, anything could be in that water. Anything from industrial runoff to agriculture waste. If the well is downgrade from the chemical plant, I mean there's just a thousand different things that can work their way into the well water. 

One of the things that we see on the West Coast are MTBE, which is a supplement for gasoline and a contaminant called perchlorate, which is a byproduct from making rocket fuel. So, these are serious contaminants. Some of them have odors, some of them do not. Some of them have color, a lot do not. But the only true way to understand what it is to improve that funky taste or that funky smell is to understand where they’re originating from. So having a water analysis of your groundwater is crucial. It's going to reveal things that you didn't even think about or didn't even know were there.

Additionally, the way we treat well water has a lot to do with pH value. A prime example would be removing iron from a well. Removing iron is much easier if the pH is a little bit lower. If the water has a higher pH, then I might use a different process to capture the iron. That's one example of a thousand different scenarios. They say if you ask five water specialists how to fix something, we'll give you six solutions. They'll all probably work because there's a little bit of art form to it as well. But we can’t fix things from a place of ambiguity. You know - It's just got a nasty smell, it's got a nasty taste to it. How do we fix that? Well we need to understand what is in the water that's causing that taste and smell. 

What’s the difference between point-of-entry filtration and point-of-use filtration?

David: It’s true, every system and every solution is tailor made to a specific problem. wherever you happen to live, I think a lot of people think,  “Oh, I’ll just go out and buy a pitcher or stick a filter on the end of my faucet, and that'll sort me out.” And then they'll realize that no, it has to do with your water source, what part of the country you’re in. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. 

John: Exactly, David, it boils down to what is the problem that we're trying to solve? So if we're trying to get rid of an issue that's going to affect the whole house, like sediment, then we need something to filter that for the whole house. We call that point-of-entry. So, a sediment filter like Rusco spin-down filter or a melt-blown filter, for example, would be a great solution to that problem. If you didn't want to shower in chlorine or you didn't want to wash your clothes and chlorine, we would put a big carbon filter at the point of entry to get rid of chlorine throughout the house.

Some contaminants we only need to remove at the point-of-use, right before you drink it or cook with it. For example, a lot of people don't like fluoride in their water. Municipalities add fluoride because it's supposed to strengthen your teeth and give kids better dental checkups. It’s supposed to help older people have better bone strength. But, there's a lot of people that believe it causes additional problems and they don't want fluoride in their drinking water. Well you don't necessarily have to pull fluoride out to flush toilets or to do your laundry. So that would be a great point of use application. You could install a reverse osmosis unit to get rid of the fluoride before you drink it.

Learn more about whole house water filtration. | Explore how sediment filters work.

What are common water problems that damage your home?

David: I think people when people think of water filtration and water quality, they instantly think of drinking water. Obviously, that is one of the biggest concerns, but there are water issues that can get a well beyond taste and odor. There are water problems that damage your pipes and damage your house, like water hardness. What are some of the issues that don't have anything to do with drinking water that can be a major problems for your home? 

John: One of the most common water treatment issues in the country is water hardness, and it will absolutely damage your home. Water hardness is simply an abundance of calcium and magnesium in the water. These two elements create scale. Scale is that white powdery stuff that sticks to the side of the pan when you boil water. It bonds with soap and creates a curd, a slimy goo that sticks to your shower curtain and to your shower doors. Hard water wreaks havoc with the laundry. It wreaks havoc with your skin. Hard water beats up water heaters. That's one of the significant costs of hard water, it will destroy water heaters and it will destroy dishwashers. It'll destroy your coffee brewer because as that scale occurs, it gets on the heating elements and it doesn't allow them to work efficiently anymore.

Hard water also causes scale to accumulate in your pipes and your plumbing and it can literally close off plumbing. Scale can build-up to the point where a 3/4 inch pipe has a 1/4 inch passageway left in the plumbing. The Batelle Institute did a study a few years ago on the effect of hard water versus soft water for appliances like water heaters, dishwashers, and showerheads. They found that getting hardness out of the water allowed these appliances to work their full 15 years of life without any loss of efficiency. I can't tell you how many people tell me they replace their water heater about every three years. You don’t have to do that if you install a water softener and remove that water hardness from your water.

Now another household water problem that we deal with very frequently is, is water with low pH. We call it acidic water. Acidic water will destroy plumbing from inside. Water is aggressive to begin with. As a universal solvent, it's going to erode anything it comes in contact with. When the pH starts dropping, the water will become corrosive. Acidic water will start to eat away at copper plumbing. If you’ve ever noticed blue-green stains on your drains, your plumbing is coming undone and it's probably because of as acidic water. So we need to buffer that pH up to neutralize the water so it doesn't destroy your plumbing. For hard water or acidic water, we need a whole-house, point-of-entry system to protect your home from damage.

Explore more about how to treat acidic water. | Learn more about how water softeners work. 

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