FARMINGTON — Residential and commercial water softeners are at the center of an ongoing debate between city officials and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA restrictions say effluent discharged from a city wastewater treatment plant can have no more than 400 milligrams per liter of total dissolved solids above the levels measured when the water was taken from the river.

Salts from water softeners contribute to the total dissolved solids in water. While the city is attempting to decrease the total dissolved solids levels in its wastewater discharge, city officials are searching for other avenues to compliance.

"We're asking for relief on that number," said Jeff Smaka, public works director, in a Thursday phone interview.

In a worst-case scenario, if the city is unable to comply with the regulations, the EPA could impose $27,500 per day in fines, Smaka said.

Farmington received a wastewater discharge permit from the EPA for Nov. 1, 2010 to Oct. 31, 2015. However, the city has had some difficulty meeting the agency's total dissolved solids requirement, according to a presentation Wednesday from the Farmington Public Utility Commission.

City staff and personnel with CH2MHill/OMI, the city's water treatment contractor, are reviewing the requirements, according to a report by Ron Rosen, project director for CH2MHill's Farmington office, to the commission.

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While neither Smaka nor the city's elected officials can regulate how water customers set their softener levels, he said his department is approaching local businesses, hotels and laundromats about reducing the settings on their water softeners.

"I'm asking if you can back up (salt levels) and still have a good product," he said. "You can change the setting a little."

Although some water softeners may not be adjustable, all residential and commercial water customers in Farmington should check their systems to see if they can be adjusted, Rosen said. On adjustable systems, there is a dial where customers can adjust their water hardness in grains per gallon, he said. Rosen suggests turning that setting back to 10 grains per gallon.

Salt levels at the city's water treatment plants are usually only a little over the EPA's requirement, he said.

"If everyone does their part, we can meet this, and (customers) will save money on salt. A lot (of systems) are adjustable,” Rosen said. Among other strategies, the public works department is sending out "Don't Pass The Salt" brochures with water bills on a quarterly basis, he said.

"I think the public education campaign is a good faith effort," said Mayor Tommy Roberts in a Thursday phone interview. "We definitely want to try and cooperate with the EPA. We're basically asking our citizens to be aware."

Greg Yee covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606 and gyee@daily-times.com. Follow him @GYeeDT on Twitter.