It’s been a great year for the Inland Empire Brine Line, which exported 92,000 tons of salty brine water to help protect groundwater in the upper Santa Ana River Watershed.

Inland Empire Brine Line

SAWPA’s Brine Line was built in the 1970’s through the 1990’s to help keep groundwater in the Inland Empire (IE) from becoming too salty. Every year, we import salt along with the water that we bring in from the Colorado River and the Sacramento Delta. After that water is used, it can deposit salt into our natural groundwater and into the wider environment, such as the Santa Ana River. Additionally, we have brackish water in many of our aquifers that can be turned into drinking water with reverse osmosis – but the briny wastewater cannot be allowed back into the environment of the upper watershed for fear that it would make our water reserves ever saltier.

Brine also is removed from the upper Santa Ana River Watershed by industries that cannot send their salty flows to local wastewater treatment plants or to local groundwater recharge basin. These industries include water softening, power plants, food processors, power plants and even computer chip manufacturers.

The Brine line is an excellent solution that allows us to better maintain our groundwater basins and allows large businesses to operate in our region inexpensively.

Who Uses the Brine Line?

Photo Credit: Ken Bosma, Flickr Creative Commons.

Photo Credit: Ken Bosma, Flickr Creative Commons.

Drinking Water

Water from our region can be up to five times saltier than normal drinking water should be. Some water agencies desalinate their water so that it can be used for drinking and other household activities. Brackish water is put through a reverse-osmosis process that removes salt and other impurities before it gets mixed with other water from the Sacramento Delta and the Colorado River. Some cities receiving groundwater that has been desalinated are Ontario, Jurupa Valley, and Corona.


Large Buildings with Air Conditioning

Kaiser Hospital in Fontana is an example of a organization that operates large buildings with giant air conditioning systems. Most people don’t know that large A/C units rely on cooled water to create cooled air. The units will recycle water until it evaporates, and when it does, it tends to leave salt behind. For this reason, the building’s engineers need to flush the system occasionally, and when they do, the water will come out very salty. They will fill up a truck with the brine waste and take it to the Brine Line, where it is treated and then sent out to the Pacific.

Power Plants

Creating electricity requires a great deal of water – which is why saving energy is important in a drought. Both the Mountain View Power Plant and the Inland Empire Energy Center burn natural gas to heat water, which becomes steam and turns the turbines that create electricity.  Mountain View Power Plant reuses 85% of its water. The remaining 15% that cannot be used anymore is taken to the Brine Line.

Computer chips made by International Rectifier are used in many things, including commercial airplanes. Photo Credit: Bernal Saborio

Computer chips made by International Rectifier are used in many things, including commercial airplanes. Photo Credit: Bernal Saborio


Some industries, like food processors, use water while preparing food in large quantities and maintain a very high level of cleanliness.  The industry waste flows are properly disposed of in the Brine Line. Del Real Foods, a food processor in the Inland Empire, makes frozen Mexican food that you can buy at Costco, Fresh’n’Easy, and Food4Less. They employ 305 people who make their fully prepared meats, refrigerated sauces and salsas, side dishes, and other specialty items like tamales.

We also have a computer chip manufacturing company in the IE called International Rectifier. International Rectifier makes computer chips that are used in a wide variety of products, including cars, commercial airplanes and satellites. The company started recycling the water that they use in their manufacturing process with a high-pressure reverse osmosis system. Their water demand went from 91million gallons a year to 29 million gallons a year. When water is recycled, a salty brine remains, which is taken to the Brine Line. International Rectifier employs over 600 people and brings over $36 million to the local economy.

The Inland Empire Brine Line allows businesses to take advantage of the lower cost of doing business in the IE while discharging their wastewater in a safe and economical fashion.