Monday, December 14, 2009

GAO report says biofuel production will need to be weighed against increased demand for water

We reported last month that the recession may prevent the U.S. from ever using the full amount of biofuel Congress mandated in 2007, but now increased biofuel production may have a new obstacle: water supplies. "As demand for water from various sectors increases and places additional stress on already constrained supplies, the effects of expanded biofuel production may need to be considered," a new report from the Government Accountability Office says. In U.S. Department of Agriculture Region 7 (North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas) 323.6 gallons of water is used to produce every gallon of ethanol, Art Hovey of the Lincoln Journal-Star notes.

In USDA Region 5, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Missouri, irrigation is needed less for corn production, and only 10 gallons of water is used to produce each gallon of ethanol. The GAO offered no recommendations with its findings, Hovey reports, but it did make the connection between more mandated ethanol production in the years ahead, more corn and "water-constrained regions of the United States where corn is grown using irrigation."

"The vast majority of corn in this country is rain-fed," Steve Sorum of the Nebraska Ethanol Board told Hovey. "Of that portion that's not rain-fed, a great portion of it occurs in Nebraska and the Dakotas," which overlie the vast Oglalla Aquifer. Sorum said the report "presents us with unique challenges." He pointed to new more drought-resistant corn as one way to cut water use, and added that the amount of water used at plants to make ethanol, also factored into the GAO numbers, has declined from the six-gallon level of a few years ago but still used in the report. (Read more)

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