| KANSAS CITY, Missouri
KANSAS CITY, Missouri The U.S. craze for
ethanol could severely strain an already ailing aquifer in key
farm states, increasing demand for scarce water supplies by
more than 2 billion gallons a year, according to a report
issued Thursday by the nonprofit group Environmental Defense.
The environmental group's report focused on the Ogallala
aquifer, an 800-mile-long underground pool that stretches from
Texas to South Dakota. The Ogallala feeds one-fifth of all the
irrigated land in the United States, and is critical to farmers
growing corn, cotton, wheat, soybeans and other crops.
The report states that between three and six gallons of
water are needed to produce one gallon of ethanol, potentially
increasing demand on the already declining Ogallala by as much
as 2.6 billion gallons a year just to process the corn and
produce the fuel. Another 120 billion gallons a year could be
needed for irrigation to grow more corn in the region,
according to the report.
"The Ogallala Aquifer is a microcosm of the challenges
we'll face in America as we develop renewable fuels," said
Martha Roberts, co-author of the report and a fellow at
Environmental Defense. "Nine new ethanol plants are already
planned for some of the most water-depleted areas of the
Ogallala Aquifer, even though those areas are vulnerable to
erosion and the entire region's water resources are stretched
Ethanol proponents downplayed the concerns.
"Most of the water concerns that are expressed about
ethanol plants are way overblown," said American Coalition of
Ethanol spokesman Ron Lamberty. "The average person on earth
uses 100 gallons of water a day."
Lamberty said some of the water used to make ethanol is
returned to the environment in the form of steam. He also said
ethanol plants will not be locating where water availability is
Demand for ethanol has spiked as the U.S. works to wean
itself from foreign oil and corn production skyrocketed this
According to the ethanol coalition, there are 132 ethanol
plants currently in operation with a capacity for 6.8 billion
gallons a year and 79 under construction with capacity for 5.7
billion gallons. Most of the ethanol development is in the U.S.
The Environmental Defense report recommends maintaining or
expanding the Conservation Reserve Program, which provides
cost-share and rental payments to farmers and ranchers who
retire cropland to grass cover, and the Grasslands Reserve
Program, which pays farmers and ranchers permanent easement or
rental payments to protect, restore or enhance grasslands or