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Farmers in the Northern Plains use considerably more water to produce a gallon of ethanol than in Iowa, Missouri and other Midwestern states, according to a new report from the Government Accountability office. Art Hovey of the Lincoln Journal Star reports: “Nebraska farmers are part of a Northern Plains grouping of states that typically uses 323.6 gallons of water to produce a gallon of ethanol from corn, according to a new federal study. In Iowa, Missouri and other states in the adjoining Midwest region, where irrigation is mostly absent and rainfall more plentiful, the figure is 10 gallons.”
The GAO was gentle in its criticism of such high water use: “As demand for water from various sectors increases and places additional stress on already constrained supplies, the effects of expanded biofuel production may need to be considered.” The ethanol industry said the report provided no surprises. “The vast majority of corn in this country is rain fed,” Sorum said. “Of that portion that’s not rain fed, a great portion of it occurs in Nebraska and the Dakotas.”
Almost all the water used to produce ethanol comes from irrigation. To produce a gallon of ethanol in Nebraska requires 320.6 gallons of water irrigation. It now takes about 3 gallons of water to make a gallon of ethanol at the plant, down from 6 gallons from a couple of years ago.