Injection of desalination brine into the saline part of the coastal aquifer; environmental and hydrological implications

Shaked Stein, Holly A. Michael, Brandon Dugan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Seawater desalination, specifically reverse osmosis (RO), has become an important water resource, especially in arid and semi-arid regions. The desalination process generates a brine solution that is usually discharged to the nearshore environment, negatively impacting the marine ecosystem. A different method of disposing of the brine solution is needed to restore and maintain the marine environment. One such method is injecting the desalination brine into the saline part of the coastal aquifer. This study aims to investigate the hydrological and environmental impacts of such injection using groundwater flow and solute transport numerical models, showing the fresh-saline water interface (FSI) response at different injection rates, depths, and distances from shore. Moreover, this study investigates the recovery evolution of the aquifer after injection stops. We also analyze the hydrological response when pumping saline groundwater (SGW) (for desalination) or freshwater (for water supply) simultaneously with brine injection. Results show that brine injection creates a high salinity plume that pushes the FSI landward and salinizes the aquifer. After 20 years of injecting 5 million m3 y−1, 17 million m3 of freshwater are lost due to salt contamination. It is also shown that by injecting further offshore and in shallower depths, the impact on the FSI and the aquifer is reduced. Furthermore, pumping SGW simultaneously with brine injection negates the brine plume effect on the FSI and results in a more stable interface. It is noted that aquifer recovery is a long process and even after 100 years of recovery, the aquifer is not fully rehabilitated. This paper shows for the first time the hydrological implications of brine injection into the saline part of the coastal aquifer and demonstrates its potential utility for desalination plants in protecting the environment.

Original languageEnglish
Article number117820
JournalWater Research
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Brine injection
  • Coastal aquifers
  • Desalination
  • Saline groundwater
  • Seawater intrusion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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