December 1, 2009

Biofuels could have big impact on water resources

Print More

It’s totally possible that the move to increased biofuel production (e.g. ethanol and biodiesel) could tax already maxed out irrigation and water resources.

That’s according to a relatively unheralded report released by the Government Accountability Office Monday. GAO, Congress’s investigative and auditing agency, prepares reports in response to requests from members of the U.S. House and Senate.

The report “Many Uncertainties Remain about National and Regional Effects of Increased Biofuel Production on Water Resources”, says that existing biofuel production methods uses a lot of water and that corn, the raw material of much of the biofuel business, is produced in the U.S. as an irrigation-dependent, water-intensive crop.

On the other hand, next-generation biofuel ingredients and processes could substantially reduce the impact on water supplies.  In the words  of GAO investigators:

The extent to which increased biofuels production will affect the nation’s water resources depends on the type of feedstock selected and how and where it is grown. For example, to the extent that this increase is met from the cultivation of conventional feedstocks, such as corn, it could have greater water resource impacts than if the increase is met by next generation feedstocks, such as perennial grasses and woody biomass, according to experts and officials. This is because corn is a relatively resource-intensive crop, and in certain parts of the country requires considerable irrigated water as well as fertilizer and pesticide application.

Another finding was that more data is needed about local and regional water supplies across the U.S.

One thought on “Biofuels could have big impact on water resources

  1. The NPR News Hour tonight (Dec 01) had a segment on the 8 year drought in a huge agricultural area of SE Australia, which many there blame on global warming.

    The video demonstrates the many ways that farmers there are economizing on water usage, by planting more drought tolerant crops and switching to crops with better economic payoff when water is limited. Many farmers have been forced out of business entirely.

    As time progresses, we are likely to see some of these same devastating impacts here. Until that happens, global climate change is going to remain an abstract issue for most of us.