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USGS Water Availability and Use Science Program

National Brackish Groundwater Assessment

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Brackish Groundwater Assessment > Uses

How is Brackish Groundwater Being Used?

Industry and public drinking-water suppliers are increasingly turning to brackish groundwater to supplement or replace the use of freshwater. Brackish groundwater is either directly used or treated.


Types of Brackish Groundwater Use

Direct Use:

Brackish groundwater is directly used for purposes such as cooling water for power generation, aquaculture, and for a variety of uses in the oil and gas industry such as drilling, enhancing recovery, and hydraulic fracturing.

Nuclear thermoelectric power plant.

Source: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Treated Use:

For purposes requiring lower dissolved-solids content, especially drinking water, brackish water is treated through reverse osmosis or other desalination processes. In 2010, there were 649 active desalination plants in the United States with a capacity to treat 402 million gallons per day (Shea, 2010). Of the desalination plant capacity in the United States, 67 percent was for municipal purposes, 18 percent for industry, 9 percent for power, and the remaining 6 percent for other uses (Mickley, 2010). A total of 314 desalination facilities are used for municipal purposes, 49 percent of which were in Florida, 16 percent in California, 12 percent in Texas, and the remaining 23 percent dispersed among other states. More than 95 percent of the desalination facilities in the United States are inland (Mickley, 2010), and most facilities are designed to treat groundwater with dissolved-solids concentrations in the brackish range (Shea, 2010). Recent advances in technology have reduced the cost and energy requirements of desalination, making treatment of brackish groundwater a more viable option for drinking-water supplies (National Research Council, 2008).

Brackish water desalination facility in Harlingen, Texas.
Brackish water desalination facility in Harlingen, Texas. The plant was built in 2007 and has a capacity of 2.25 million gallons per day. Source: North Cameron Regional Water Supply Corporation


Map of U.S. showing groudnwater desalination facilities.
Source: Mickley & Associates, written commun., 2013. Survey of municipal desalination plants.




Amount of Saline* Groundwater Being Used

The USGS Water Use Program has published information about saline water use since 1985. The reports include estimates of water withdrawals by State, source of water, and category of use. *Saline water for purposes of that program is defined as water with a dissolved-solids concentration greater than 1,000 milligrams per liter and includes the brackish concentration range.

Bar chart of saline groundwater use, 1985 to 2010.
Data show that use of saline groundwater has been increasing since 1985.


Map of U.S. by county, showing total saline groundwater use, 2010.


References

Maupin, M.A., Kenny, J.F., Hutson, S.S., Lovelace, J.K., Barber, N.L., and Linsey, K.S., 2014, Estimated use of water in the United States in 2010: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1405, 56 p., https://dx.doi.org/10.3133/cir1405.

Mickley, Mike, 2010, Inland desalination—Current status and challenges, in Annual WateReuse Symposium, 25th, Washington, D.C., 2010, Conference Presentations: Alexandria, Va., WateReuse Assoc., 31 p., accessed September 5, 2012, at http://www.watereuse.org/information-resources/about-desalination/presentations.

National Research Council, 2008, Desalination—a national perspective [Link exits the USGS web site]: Washington D.C., The National Academies Press., 316 p.

Shea, A.L., 2010, Status and challenges for desalination in the United States, in Reuse & Desalination—Water Scarcity Solutions for the 21st Century Conference, Sydney, Australia, 2010, Conference Presentations: Alexandria, Va., WateReuse Assoc., 36 p., accessed September 5, 2012, at http://www.watereuse.org/information-resources/about-desalination/presentations.

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