GAO: Northern Plains corn ethanol uses more water

AP News
|
Posted: Dec 11, 2009 9:18 AM

Farmers in the Northern Plains use considerably more water to produce a gallon of corn ethanol than growers in other parts of the country, according to a new government report examining whether increased biofuels use could drain the nation's water resources.

An ethanol industry group said the report offers little new insight and the vast majority of ethanol is produced from rain-fed corn.

The November study from the Government Accountability Office quotes Argonne National Laboratory data that said farmers in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas use, on average, 323.6 gallons of water to produce one gallon of ethanol from corn, with all but 3 of those gallons used for irrigation.

The GAO said that's 20 to 30 times the amount of water used in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's two other main corn producing regions, where rainfall is more plentiful.

The region that includes Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Missouri uses 10 gallons of water for every gallon of ethanol, while the region encompassing Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan uses 16.8 gallons of water.

"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," the GAO noted in its report.

Geoff Cooper, vice president of research for the Renewable Fuels Association, said it's disingenuous to suggest increased ethanol production is somehow driving irrigated corn acreage. He quoted a National Renewable Energy Laboratory article that said 96 percent of corn used for ethanol production is not irrigated.

"We've always irrigated about 12 or 13 percent of the corn crop, and we expect that to continue, with or without ethanol production," Cooper said.

The report also failed to put ethanol's water profile in context with other energy sources and didn't note the marked improvement in biofuels plants' water usage over the years, Cooper said. Biorefineries use 3 gallons of water or less to produce a gallon of ethanol, he said.

"Just 10 years ago, the average would have been closer to 4 1/2 or 5 gallons," Cooper said.

The GAO report, prepared for the House committee on science and technology, noted that cellulosic ethanol produced from next-generation feedstocks such as corn stover and perennial grasses could do a better job conserving water, but more study is needed.

Cooper said advances also are being made in the way corn uses water as seed companies develop more drought tolerant hybrids that require less water.

___

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) _ A Rhode Island animal protection group is looking for homes for dozens of animals who were left behind on a foreclosed farm.

The Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals will place the animals from Bonniedale Farm up for adoption under a court agreement reached Thursday.

Dan MacKenzie had cared for 136 rescued animals at his Glocester farm, but he lost the property to foreclosure Monday and was evicted.

MacKenzie sought a court order to ensure that the animals _ including turkeys, pigs and horses _ would be cared for after reports that they were being neglected.

"These weren't feed animals. These were rescued animals that had names and were more like pets," MacKenzie's lawyer Guy Settipane said Wednesday. "We're not going to discard them as if they were an old worn-out TV."

Wells Fargo said earlier Thursday that it was committed to giving the animals food and water. It said it's not the owner or mortgage servicer of the property but is instead a trustee for a trust that includes the property's mortgage.

Settipane had said the RISPCA grew concerned because some of the animals were not being fed or let out as scheduled, and some were apparently being taken from the property by anyone who showed up to claim them.

"No one owned those animals but Mr. MacKenzie," Settipane said. "You have a rescue farm of 136 animals, but you took away the farmer."

MacKenzie received his first foreclosure notice in August 2008 and raised about $70,000 in donations after his situation was publicized, but it wasn't enough to save the farm.