The Ogallala Aquifer is an enormous underground water source for middle America. Found under eight states (from Texas to South Dakota), the aquifer is literally life-giving to this part of the country. The areas above the aquifer were the center of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s and the water in the Ogallala has been tapped for human and agricultural use for decades. You won't be surprised if I tell you that the water level is declining, right?

Environmental Defense released a report yesterday that tries to calculate the impact that biofuel plants (ones that produce corn ethanol) might have on the massive water source. The report, called "Potential Impacts of Biofuels Expansion on Natural Resources: A Case Study of the Ogallala Aquifer Region," says that pumping too much more water out of the ground for ethanol "could cause Depression-style dust bowls." New ethanol plants in the area would use up an extra 2.6 billion gallons of water a year and another 120 billion gallons would be needed to grow the corn.

Martha Roberts, who co-authored the report and is a fellow at Environmental Defense, said in a statement that, "The Ogallala Aquifer is a microcosm of the challenges we'll face in America as we develop renewable fuels. 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 thin." Instead of moving whole-hog into ethanol production in middle America, Environmental Defense calls for a low-carbon fuel standard and for more protection of water and land resources.

You can read Environmental Defense's statement on the Ogallala Aquifer and biofuels after the jump or visit their website on the issue here.

[Source: Environmental Defense]

New Report Outlines Potential Environmental Pitfalls of Ethanol

Study of Ogallala Aquifer Covering 8 States May Help Guard Against Unintended Problems

WASHINGTON, Sept. 20 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Ethanol and other biofuels have remarkable potential to help fight global warming but have many potential downsides if they're not produced carefully, according to a new report released today by Environmental Defense.

The report, Potential Impacts of Biofuels Expansion on Natural Resources: A Case Study of the Ogallala Aquifer Region focuses on the Ogallala Aquifer region, a vast expanse of plains across eight states that was the center of the Dust Bowl in the 1930's. (The report and more information, including maps and state-by-state data, are available at environmentaldefense.org/ogallala)

"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 thin."

The Ogallala is one of the world's largest aquifers and is an important water source for parts of eight states: Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming. However, over-pumping has already caused dramatic water table declines in the area. Water demands from new ethanol plants would further strain the aquifer, increasing demand by as much as 2.6 billion gallons a year just to process the corn and produce the fuel. Even worse, another 120 billion gallons a year could be needed for irrigation to grow more corn in the region, and any increased corn production on land that's now left idle could cause Depression-style dust bowls.

"Biofuels are one of our best potential weapons to fight climate change, but not all biofuels are created equal," said co-author, Dr. Timothy Male, senior scientist for Environmental Defense. "Expanding ethanol without protecting our 70 years of progress in conserving soil, water, and rare grassland habitat would be the environmental equivalent of robbing Peter to pay Paul."

The report recommends maintaining or expanding two federal conservation programs: 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 grazing operations. Both programs are part of the Farm Bill, the country's largest agricultural policy legislation, which Congress is due to reauthorize this year.

"This report provides even more proof that America needs a conservation- focused Farm Bill and a 'sodsaver' policy that eliminates government subsidies that perversely reward converting grasslands to cropland," said Male.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported this week that more than 25 million acres of grasslands have been converted to cropland since 1982, partly encouraged by subsidies. The GAO also reported that the loss of these grasslands creates a further drain on federal resources because they lead to higher disaster and crop insurance payments.

Environmental Defense, a leading national nonprofit organization, represents more than 500,000 members. Since 1967, Environmental Defense has linked science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships to create breakthrough solutions to the most serious environmental problems. http://www.environmentaldefense.org/

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