Is saline water used for anything?

In the U.S., about 13 percent of all water used is saline water. But saline water can only be used for certain purposes. The main use is for thermoelectric power-plant cooling. About 5 percent of water used for industrial purposes is saline, and about 53 percent of all water used for mining purposes is saline.

Saline water can be desalinated for use as drinking water by putting it through a process to remove the salt. This process costs so much that it isn't used very much.

Learn more: Water Use in the United States

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How much water is used by people in the United States?

Since 1950, the USGS has collected and analyzed water-use data for the United States and its Territories . That data is revised every 5 years. As of 2015, the United States uses 322 billion gallons of water per day (Bgal/day). The three largest water-use categories were irrigation (118 Bgal/day), thermoelectric power (133 Bgal/day), and public...

How much natural water is there?

Earth is estimated to hold about 1,460,000,000 cubic kilometers of water. The breakdown of where all that water resides is estimated as follows: Oceans (saline) 1,419,120,000 cubic kilometers Ice caps and glaciers (fresh) 31,244,000 cubic kilometers Ground water (fresh and saline) 8,906,000 cubic kilometers Streams and lakes (fresh) 132,860 cubic...

Why does it take so long to rinse the soap off my hands? What are hard water and soft water?

Water is said to be soft if it has a low concentration of calcium and magnesium ions in it, while hard water has a high concentration of calcium and magnesium. If you use soft water, the ions react with your soap to produce a residue that feels like it is hard to wash off. If you use hard water, you will have a harder time working the soap up into...

How is the salinity of Great Salt Lake measured?

The salinity of Great Salt Lake is measured by taking specific gravity and temperature measurements and comparing them to standardized values reported in a table. Specific gravity is measured in the field by testing a water sample with a device very similar to a battery or antifreeze tester.

Do you have information about water hardness in the United States?

View a national map of hardness in surface water on the USGS water hardness website. Hardness data (reflecting mostly calcium, plus a little magnesium) for individual drinking-water suppliers is at the EPA Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water website. It is important to note that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not set a...
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Date published: June 19, 2018

Water Use Across the United States Declines to Levels Not Seen Since 1970

Reductions in water use first observed in 2010 continue, show ongoing effort towards “efficient use of critical water resources.”

Date published: April 5, 2017

USGS Assessment of Brackish Water Could Help Nation Stretch Limited Freshwater Supplies

New USGS assessment provides fresh insights into nation’s brackish groundwater inventory

Date published: August 15, 2016

EarthWord–Salinity

Feeling salty over our bad jokes? Then this EarthWord’s for you!

Date published: June 16, 2014

Human Activities Increase Salt Content in Many of the Nation’s Streams

Concentrations of dissolved solids, a measure of the salt content in water, are elevated in many of the Nations streams as a result of human activities, according to a new USGS study.

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All water on Earth in a sphere, placed over a "dry" globe
July 16, 2019

All of Earth's Water in a single sphere!

This image shows blue spheres representing relative amounts of Earth's water in comparison to the size of the Earth. Are you surprised that these water spheres look so small? They are only small in relation to the size of the Earth. These images attempt to show three dimensions, so each sphere represents "volume." They show that in comparison to the volume of the globe,

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Full view of salt, sodium, chlorine sample
March 23, 2017

Salt, Sodium, Chlorine

Mineral: Halite (NaCl)
Primary mineral Commodity: Salt
Commodity Uses: Highway deicing accounted for about 44% of total salt consumed in 2016. Salt is also used as feedstock for chlorine and caustic soda manufacture; these two inorganic chemicals are used to make many consumer-related end-use products, such as

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Tidal Saline Wetland migration map of the U.S. Gulf Coast.
October 3, 2016

Tidal Saline Wetland migration map of the U.S. Gulf Coast

This illustration shows county-level barriers and opportunities for landward migration of Tidal Saline Wetlands under alternative sea-level rise scenarios. (a) Relative percent of areas available for migration. (b to d) Relative ratio of areas where migration is prevented by current urban land (b), by future urban land (c), and by levees (d). Counties with crosshatching

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Image shows a man suspended over a brown river with red cliffs in the background
July 18, 2016

Salinity Sampling in the Colorado River

A U.S. Geological Survey scientist collects a sample from the Colorado River for analysis of dissolved solids and other water-quality constituents. Credit: Nancy Bauch, USGS.

Interior marshes are experiencing increases in salinity and marsh habitat has been overtaken by encroaching mangroves
May 11, 2016

Interior marshes are experiencing increases in salinity and marsh habitat has been overtaken by encroaching mangroves

Interior marshes are experiencing increases in salinity and marsh habitat has been overtaken by encroaching mangroves

Image: Red Morning Sunrise on Atlantic Ocean
August 23, 2008

Red Morning Sunrise on Atlantic Ocean

Red morning sunrise on the Atlantic Ocean as seen from a barrier island.

Image: Ocean and Double Rainbow 2
August 21, 2008

Ocean and Double Rainbow 2

Sunlight and an offshore shower produced this double rainbow off Florida's east coast.

Graph showing the growth and map showing the distribution of desalination plants in the US as of 2010
November 30, 2000

Growth in Municipal Desalination Facilities, 1970-2010

In some parts of the country, freshwater has become more limited and brackish groundwater use has been increasing. This graph shows the number of municipal desalination facilities through 2010. The blue line shows the number of facilities that are processing brackish water (mostly groundwater) and the red line shows the number of facilities that process seawater. Growth in

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a graph of Groundwater flow patterns and the freshwater-saltwater transition zone in an idealized coastal aquifer
November 30, 2000

Groundwater flow patterns and the freshwater-saltwater transition zone

Groundwater flow patterns and the freshwater-saltwater transition zone in an idealized coastal aquifer. A circulation of saltwater from the sea to the transition zone and then back to the sea is induced by mixing of freshwater and saltwater in the transition zone (Barlow, 2003).

illustrations and photos of freshwater saltwater boundaries on Long Island

The Process of Saltwater Intrusion

The Process of Saltwater Intrusion: The figure above illustrates how the process of saltwater intrusion into an aquifer system can occur. The boundary between fresh groundwater and saline groundwater is referred to as the freshwater/saltwater interface.  Fresh groundwater discharging to the coast prevents the landward encroachment of saline groundwater. 

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