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Biofuels production has unintended consequences on water quality and quantity in Mississippi
Date:11/30/2010

Growing corn for biofuels production is having unintended effects on water quality and quantity in northwestern Mississippi.

More water is required to produce corn than to produce cotton in the Mississippi Delta requiring increased withdrawals of groundwater from the Mississippi River Valley alluvial (MRVA) aquifer for irrigation. This is contributing to already declining water levels in the aquifer. In addition, increased use of nitrogen fertilizer for corn in comparison to cotton could contribute to low dissolved oxygen conditions in the Gulf of Mexico.

These are some of the key findings from a study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to assess water quality and quantity in the Mississippi Delta, in relationship to biofuels production.

"Because corn uses 80 percent more water for irrigation than cotton, exchanging corn for cotton will decrease water-levels," according to Heather Welch, USGS Hydrologist and author of this USGS Report. Declining water levels in the MRVA aquifer are particularly significant in the Mississippi Delta, where the infiltration of rainfall to replenish the aquifer is low. "This is a low flat area. When it does rain, much of the precipitation is lost through evapotranspiration and to streamflow, so the rainwater never reaches the aquifer," explains Welch.

In 2006, the U.S. Department of Energy Biomass Program implemented the Biofuels Initiative. The initiative calls for the replacement of 30 percent of gasoline levels by ethanol by 2030 and the reduction of ethanol costs to prices competitive with gasoline by 2012. In the Mississippi Delta, implementation of this initiative resulted in a 47-percent decrease in the number of acres dedicated to producing cotton, which resulted in a corresponding 288-percent increase in corn acreage in the region from 2006 to 2007.

Using the USGS SPARROW model (SPAtially Referenced Regression on Watershed), scientists found that the co
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Contact: Melanie Gade
mgade@usgs.gov
703-648-4353
United States Geological Survey
Source:Eurekalert

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