June 18, 2009

Biofuel crops may damage water resources

Scientists warn the United States must be careful that its biofuel development takes into account potential damage to the nation's water resources.

The ongoing, rapid growth in biofuels production could have far-reaching environmental and economic repercussions, and it will likely highlight the interdependence and growing tension between energy and water security, said Rice University researchers in a report titled The Water Footprint of Biofuels: A Drink or Drive Issue?

The report, written by Professor Pedro Alvarez and three colleagues, questions whether increased biofuel-driven agriculture will affect water-resource availability and degrade water quality. The researchers note fuel crops require large quantities of water and water pollution is exacerbated by agricultural drainage containing fertilizers, pesticides and sediment.

These potential drawbacks, which the authors call the water footprint, must be balanced by biofuels' significant potential to ease dependence on foreign oil and improve trade balance while mitigating air pollution and reducing fossil carbon emissions to the atmosphere.

The report calls on policymakers to evaluate the water footprint as they devise an environmentally sustainable biofuels program.

Through energy conservation and careful planning "¦ we can have our drive and drink our water too, the scientists said.

The report is available at http://cohesion.rice.edu/centersandinst/shellcenter/emplibrary/Water%20Footprint%20of%20Biofuels%20FINAL%20SUBMISSION.pdf.