Corn, ethanol mandate sucking down the Central Plains water table?

Corn, ethanol mandate sucking down the Central Plains water table?

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.


– 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. 

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