ETHANOL'S WATER SHORTAGE
October 17, 2007
Heavily subsidized and absurdly inefficient, corn-based ethanol has already driven up food prices. But the Senate's plan to increase production to 36 billion gallons by 2022, will place even greater pressure on farm-belt aquifers, says the Wall Street Journal.
- Ethanol plants consume roughly four gallons of water to produce each gallon of fuel, but that's only a fraction of ethanol's total water habit.
- Cornell University ecology professor David Pimentel says that when you count the water needed to grow the corn, one gallon of ethanol requires a staggering 1,700 gallons of H2O.
Some corn-producing regions are already scrapping over dwindling supply:
- Kansas is threatening to sue neighboring Nebraska for consuming more than its share of the Republican River.
- There is local opposition to a proposed ethanol plant in Erskine, Minnesota, with anti-refinery yard signs sprouting up and residents concerned about well water.
- Backers of a proposed plant in Jamestown, North Dakota, recently withdrew their application when it became clear that the plant's million-gallon-a-day appetite would drain too much from a local aquifer.
Further, ethanol's big environmental footprint is not limited to water, because biofuels like ethanol are highly inefficient, says the Journal:
- Growing corn to produce ethanol means converting land from food production to fuel production.
- Writing in Science magazine, Renton Righelato and Dominick Spracklen estimate that in order to replace just 10 percent of gasoline and diesel consumption, the United States would need to convert a full 43 percent of its cropland to ethanol production.
The alternative approach -- clearing wilderness -- would mean more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere than simply sticking with gasoline, because the CO2-munching trees cut down to make way for ethanol absorb more emissions than ethanol saves.
Source: Editorial, Ethanol's Water Shortage," Wall Street Journal, October 17, 2007.
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