Salt Contamination of Water Supplies in Tidal Rivers


Access to clean and safe drinking water is critical to public health and economic prosperity. About 70% of U.S. drinking water supply comes from surface waters, including the tidal fresh regions of estuaries. Drought, sea level rise, watershed and port & harbor engineering, and changes in land-use are increasingly threatening such water supplies in coastal regions due to increasing risk of salinization. The risk extends to water extraction from the coastal zone for thermoelectric power, irrigation, and industrial production.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, this project will bring together an interdisciplinary team of researchers and stakeholders to assess the risks of salt contamination of water supplies in tidal rivers, synthesize the current understanding and identify knowledge gaps. This exploratory investigation is timely and globally relevant as water infrastructure around the world is under threat from climate change, salinization, and local anthropogenic pressures. A better understanding of climatic and other anthropogenic effects on the water supplies will be valuable for bolstering the resilience of water infrastructure and protecting public health.

Salt contamination of drinking water intakes in tidal rivers has made headline news around the world. A temporary emergency barrier was placed on the West False River in Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in June 2021 to slow down salt intrusion and prevent contamination of water supplies. Salt contamination of drinking water also occurred in the Changjiang River in September 2022, leading to panic stockpiling of bottled water in Shanghai and in the Chao Phraya River where residents in Bangkok were urged to shower less to conserve water Similar salt intrusion problems have been reported in Europe, including the Rhine River where the 2022 summer drought triggered emergency water conservation measures and the use of bubble screens to protect drinking water intakes in Netherlands.

A series of virtual panel discussions and an in-person workshop will be organized to assess the science on this emerging topic. Case studies of saltwater intrusion and freshwater salinization in tidal rivers in the US and around the world will be discussed and synthesized. This project will bring together national and international communities of diverse researchers working on the interdisciplinary aspects of salt contamination of water supplies in tidal rivers. It will include outreach activities through engagement with stakeholders involved in water management, conservation, drinking water treatment operations, and will include participants from the agricultural, industrial, municipal and power generation sectors that rely on the access to freshwater sources.

Please register below to receive information about the upcoming virtual panel discussions.

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