Water shortages leading right back to corn and ethanol

The central plains have seen some relief this spring with bands of heavy rains moving through, but the 2014 season has been the exception rather than the norm. The 2012 – 2013 drought season saw more and more people having trouble accessing potable ground water, or even sufficient moisture for agriculture. It’s long been known that this problem is exacerbated by expanding corn production, driven by a need to feed the government mandated ethanol market. But a recent study from an unusual source sheds some new light on this situation.

The source for this study actually is the interesting part, as it comes from Ceres, a group self-described as “a non-profit organization advocating for sustainability leadership.” Among their key issues, they list climate change and the need to move away from fossil based fuels. In other words, this isn’t exactly a right wing think tank. But now they’ve released a lengthy study on the subject of aggressive corn production to meet ethanol demands and the effect it is having on water supplies.

Recent extreme weather events such as the devastating Midwest drought of 2012 helped drive record corn prices ($8/bushel). This provided a taste of what is predicted to become the new normal in many parts of the Corn Belt thanks to climate change—a point powerfully reinforced by the latest National Climate Assessment.

Growing irrigation demand for corn production, alongside unchecked withdrawals of groundwater from stressed water sources—in particular, the High Plains aquifer that spans eight Great Plains states and California’s overextended Central Valley aquifer—create additional risks for the $65 billion a year corn industry, which has nearly doubled in size over the past two decades.

It’s a lengthy study which you can download at the link, but the many findings – when combined with what we know of the industry -lead to some interesting facts such as these:

The ethanol industry, which uses 35 percent of all U.S. corn, adds further stress to regions experiencing declining water tables.

– 36 ethanol refineries are located in and source corn irrigated with water from the High Plains aquifer.
– Of these, 12 ethanol refineries above the High Plains aquifer are sourcing corn in areas experiencing cumulative declines in groundwater levels.
– Six of these refineries are in regions of extreme water-level decline (between 50-150 feet).

And yet, when you speak with most any of the army of so called green activists, they will assure you that no price is too high if it replaces dirty, nasty old gasoline with the “Earth friendly” choice of ethanol. This willingness to accept the premise at all costs leads to support for government mandates, such as the odious Renewable Fuel Standard, currently crippling the market and, as it turns out, the environment as well.

Please do check out the Ceres infographic titled, “The Cost of Corn.” And yet supposedly green minded environmental activists will ignore the science, even when it comes from their own side, to push this agenda. They hypocrisy is enough to give one pause.

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