WASHINGTON -- If projected increases in the use of corn for ethanol production occur, the harm to water quality could be considerable, and water supply problems at the regional and local levels could also arise, says a new report from the National Research Council. The committee that wrote the report examined policy options and identified opportunities for new agricultural techniques and technologies to help minimize effects of biofuel production on water resources.
Recent increases in oil prices in conjunction with subsidy policies have led to a dramatic expansion in corn ethanol production and high interest in further expansion over the next decade, says the report. Indeed, because of strong national interest in greater energy independence, in this year's State of the Union address, President Bush called for the production of 35 billion gallons of ethanol by 2017, which would equal about 15 percent of the U.S. liquid transportation fuels.
A National Research Council committee was convened to look at how shifts in the nation's agriculture to include more energy crops, and potentially more crops overall, could affect water management and long-term sustainability of biofuel production. Based on findings presented at a July colloquium, the committee came to several conclusions about biofuel production and identified options for addressing them.
In terms of water quantity, the committee found that agricultural shifts to growing corn and expanding biofuel crops into regions with little agriculture, especially dry areas, could change current irrigation practices and greatly increase pressure on water resources in many parts of the United States. The amount of rainfall and other hydroclimate conditions from region to region causes significant variations in the water requirement for the same crop, the report says. For example, in the Northern and Southern Plains, corn generally uses more water than soybeans and cotton, while the rev
|Contact: Jennifer Walsh|
The National Academies