Improved aquifer characterization and the optimization of the design of brackish groundwater desalination systems

Robert G. Malivaa, Thomas M. Missimer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Many water scarce regions possess brackish-water resources that can be desalted to provide alternative water supplies. Brackish groundwater desalination by reverse osmosis (RO) is less expensive than seawater systems because of reduced energy and pretreatment requirements and lesser volumes of concentrate that require disposal. Development of brackish groundwater wellfields include the same hydraulic issues that affect conventional freshwater wellfields. Managing well interference and prevention of adverse impacts such as land subsidence are important concerns. RO systems are designed to treat water whose composition falls within a system-specific envelope of salinities and ion concentrations. A fundamental requirement for the design of brackish groundwater RO systems is prediction of the produced water chemistry at both the start of pumping and after 10-20 years of operation. Density-dependent solute-transport modeling is thus an integral component of the design of brackish groundwater RO systems. The accuracy of groundwater models is dependent upon the quality of the hydrogeological data upon which they are based. Key elements of the aquifer characterization are the determination of the three-dimensional distribution of salinity within the aquifer and the evaluation of aquifer heterogeneity with respect to hydraulic conductivity. It is necessary to know from where in a pumped aquifer (or aquifer zone) water is being produced and the contribution of vertical flow to the produced water. Unexpected, excessive vertical migration (up-coning) of waters that are more saline has adversely impacted some RO systems because the salinity of the water delivered to the system exceeded the system design parameters. Improved aquifer characterization is possible using advanced geophysical techniques, which can, in turn, lead to more accurate solute-transport models. Advanced borehole geophysical logs, such as nuclear magnetic resonance, were run as part of the exploratory test well program for a new 66,200 m3/d (17.5 million US gal/d, MGD) brackish-water desalination plant for the City of Hialeah, Florida. Salinity and hydraulic conductivity data from the borehole logging program were used for both well design (determination of production zone) and groundwater modeling to optimize the production wellfield layout and predict future water quality. Advanced characterization techniques have general applicability for improving the design and predictability of well-based raw water supply systems, including alternative seawater intakes. © 2011 Desalination Publications. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)190-196
Number of pages7
JournalDesalination and Water Treatment
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Aug 3 2012

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