USGS Water Availability and Use Science Program
National Brackish Groundwater Assessment
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
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.
Source: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
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).
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.
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 : 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.