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ARS Home » Plains Area » Bushland, Texas » Conservation and Production Research Laboratory » Soil and Water Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #386335

Research Project: Precipitation and Irrigation Management to Optimize Profits from Crop Production

Location: Soil and Water Management Research

Title: Water use and availability. Chapter 11 of Biofuels and the Environment: Third Triennial Report to Congress

item DODDER, REBECCA - Us Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
item WU, MAY - Argonne National Laboratory
item Evett, Steven - Steve
item COMPTON, JANA - Us Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
item YUAN, YONGPING - Us Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Submitted to: Government Publication/Report
Publication Type: Government Publication
Publication Acceptance Date: 7/15/2021
Publication Date: N/A
Citation: N/A

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: Chapter 11, Water Use and Availability, of the 3rd Triennial Report to Congress on Biofuels and the Environment focused on water use and availability related to biofuel production and policy. Biofuel related water use and availability are primarily due to irrigation (the feedstock production stage), while water use in biorefineries (the conversion stage) represents a small percentage (approximately 1-9%) of life cycle water use. For corn-based ethanol, when accounting for ground and surface water used for irrigation, 88% of total life cycle biofuel water use is for irrigation for feedstock production. For soybean-based ethanol, feedstock irrigation is 98% of total life cycle biofuel water used. The overall irrigated area in corn, according to USDA surveys, increased from between 9.3 and 9.7 million acres before the 2005 Energy Act to between 12 and 13 million acres reported in the 2008 and 2012 censuses, before declining to 11.6 million reported in 2018. The majority of total irrigation withdrawals (81%) and irrigated lands (74%) in 2015 occurred in the 17 conterminous western States located west of and including the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas overlying the High Plains Aquifer (HPA, also referred to as the Ogallala Aquifer). Satellite-based studies have developed annual maps with greater spatial and temporal detail to track irrigation changes over the HPA. Some studies show irrigated croplands (all crops) over the HPA increased from approximately 14 M acres to 15 M acres (for all crops) between 2000 and 2017, mostly in Nebraska. Continued irrigation at present rates over the Southern HPA is not sustainable where the extraction rate exceeds recharge, most notably in eastern Colorado, western Kansas, the Texas Panhandle, and eastern New Mexico. However, for the Northern HPA, climate change is expected to increase precipitation, and the projections show that the MonDak (the lower Yellowstone and Missouri River area of eastern Montana and western North Dakota) irrigated area could expand, while irrigation at present rates is considered sustainable in much of eastern Nebraska. Production of gasoline is estimated to consume 1.4 to 8.6 gal of water per gal of fuel. In comparison, production of corn ethanol is estimated to consume 8.7 to 160 gal/gal. The major factors determining the range are the corn-producing regions and regional variation in irrigation requirements.