Despite some reprieve from the draught that gripped the state for several years, Californians continue to find resourceful ways to trim their water consumption. Businesses large and small are no exception. 

Seaside resorts — with massive pools, landscape to tend and mountains of laundry to wash — are among the largest water-consuming businesses aside from agriculture. 

One famous resort in Santa Barbara is a 360°-room ode to SoCal luxury.  A guest reclining next to the pool, sipping a 93-point Pinot Noir, might find it easy to put all troublesome thoughts aside.  But the resort’s outdated, wasteful water softening system wasn’t nearly as serene. 

Environmental sustainability is something that resort management takes seriously, so they began searching for solutions. With the help of nearby Matilija Pure Water Systems, they’ve made water- and salt-saving strides.

“The maintenance department contacted us about replacing the resin in their water softening system,” says Matt Raley, general manager at Matilija. “After visiting the facility, we developed a plan to save water, salt and maintenance expenses.”


Time for an upgrade

Southern California’s water is hard, anywhere from 25 to 50 grains per gallon, and total dissolved solid levels range between 600 to 1,000 ppm. It’s this — along with a more recent emphasis on conservation — that has created high demand for water quality specialists in the Golden State. 

And in Santa Barbara, Matilija Pure Water Systems leads the pack. The nearly-70-year-old firm provides uncompromising water quality service to the greater Santa Barbara area. All of its field staff either hold WQA (Water Quality Association) certifications, or are working though the Professional Certification Program. Each technician also carries a $500 well water test kit.

As the largest locally-owned water treatment company in the area, Matilija’s 10-truck crew focuses on residential and commercial water filtration, softening and purification. Its technicians maintain the systems they install, right down to scheduled salt deliveries.

The existing, 30-year-old water softening system at the resort included two, 60-cubic-foot mineral tanks. The steel vessels are so large they were put in place before construction of the facility was compete. Raley wondered if it was worth the expense to replace the media.

After inspection, the answer was a resounding “no.”  When the system was installed in 1986, it was generously sized to serve the entire resort. Not long after, plumbing changes across the 24-acre property removed half the load from the big system. Even so, the system wasn’t performing. 

“The valves weren’t working correctly, so maintenance personnel were manually regenerating the media tanks,” says Matilija’s Service Manager Daniel Masse. “More often than not, they had to do it twice. This wasted a lot of water, time and salt. We suggested they consider replacing the system instead of re-bedding it.”

Because of its huge volume, replacing the softener media would have accounted for 25% of the cost to replace the entire system completely.


Fast-paced improvements

Within three weeks of the initial visit, Masse had designed a new system and the project went out to bid. In just a few short weeks, the resort would have a system that cut their salt use in half while actually delivering soft water. 

“Ours wasn’t the lowest bid, but we also don’t cut any corners,” says Masse, who’s been with the company since 2010. “For example, I learned that one of the bids reduced the three-inch water lines down to two-inch valves. After we explained why we specified the larger valves, the resort saw the higher value in our proposal.”

With Masse leading the charge at the resort, a subcontractor was hired for extra manpower on the fast-paced project. With the laundry and main water heaters depending on the water supply, resort management wanted the task completed in a matter of days.

“We installed a metered Watts WS3 valve and two alternating, 30-cubic-foot mineral tanks,” Raley explains. “We’re the largest Watts dealer in this area. Over the past 10 or 15 years using the product, we’ve found the support we receive to be outstanding. It’s also a big benefit to work with a manufacturer that makes a component for just about every application we encounter.”

Despite being half the size of the original mineral tanks, it was no walk in the park getting the new units in place. There was no room to install the new system next to the old one, so water lines needed to be piped into the adjacent boiler room. The new tanks were lowered over a handrail and eight feet down into the mechanical space.    

A large, three-way bypass valve was installed right away, and new schedule 80 PVC was suspended from ceiling anchors. 

“Before the retrofit, the resort was manually-regenerating their tanks, using two pallets of salt each month, and still didn’t have soft water,” Masse says. “Now, they’re using half as much salt, water tests indicated zero grains of hardness and the system regenerates automatically.”

The entire eight-day project was a race against the clock. Hiring the extra help played a key role in the success of the project, and so did familiarity with the products used.

“When we find good products, we stick with them,” Raley says. “We’re not the cheapest source of water quality expertise, but we provide premium service and carry high-end components. We shy away from less expensive water treatment products because we’ve learned they just don’t hold up in SoCal.”

Matilija Pure Water Systems’ dedication to superior product and service is apparent. If one look at an installation isn’t convincing enough, the fact they have between 3,000 and 5,000 reoccurring customers tells the rest of the story. It comes as no surprise that a resort that’s known for an uncompromising guest experience would hire water quality experts with the same reputation.

“Given the option to marginally improve the old water softening system or make great strides to conserve salt and water, the resort management chose to make a real investment in the future,” Raley says. “That says a lot about their commitment to providing the best possible atmosphere for guests, as well as their standpoint on environmental sustainability.”