The effect of pumping saline groundwater for desalination on the fresh–saline water interface dynamics

Shaked Stein, Yoseph Yechieli, Eyal Shalev, Roni Kasher, Orit Sivan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Over the past few decades, seawater desalination has become a necessity for freshwater supply in many countries worldwide, particularly in arid and semi-arid regions. One potentially high-quality feed water for desalination is saline groundwater (SGW) from coastal aquifers, which has lower fouling propensity than seawater. This study examines the effect of pumping SGW from a phreatic coastal aquifer on fresh groundwater, particularly on the dynamics of the fresh–saline water interface (FSI). Initially, we constructed a 3D finite-element model of a phreatic coastal aquifer by using the FEFLOW software, which solves the coupled variable density groundwater flow and solute transport equations. Then, we compared and validated the results of the model to those of a field-scale pumping test. The model indicates that pumping SGW from a coastal aquifer freshens the aquifer and rehabilitates parts that were salinized due to seawater intrusion – an effect that increases with increasing pumping rate. In addition, when simultaneously pumping fresh groundwater further inland and SGW from below the FSI, the freshening effect is less pronounced and the salinity of the aquifer is more stable. In line with the results of the model, the field experiment revealed that salinity in the observation well decreases over the course of pumping. Taken together, our findings demonstrate that, in addition to providing a high-quality source feed water for desalination, pumping SGW does not salinize the aquifer and even rehabilitates it by negating the effect of seawater intrusion. These findings are important for planning shoreline desalination facilities and for managing arid coastal regions with lack of water supply and over exploited aquifers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)46-57
Number of pages12
JournalWater Research
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2019


  • Coastal aquifers management
  • Desalination
  • Saline groundwater
  • Seawater intrusion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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