High oil prices and support from Washington have inspired such interest in the corn-based gasoline additive that the Illinois Corn Growers Association now says at least 30 plants are in various stages of planning across the state.
All will use a lot of water.
It would take about 300 million gallons of water for processing the product and cooling equipment to make 100 million gallons of ethanol each year, according to the Renewable Fuels Association.
There are three plants planned for the area, the one in Champaign expected to use 1.7 million gallons of water and to generate at least 500,000 gallons of wastewater each day. Water recycling and improved technology are reducing the amount of water used in the process. Even if they didn’t, this is actually small potatoes compared to current Champaign-Urbana daily residential use of 23 million gallons. I visited there a few months ago. They are building houses like crazy–just like here–and it’s not difficult to believe that this type of growth eventually will affect the water level even of a mighty aquifer like Mahomet, which supplies Illinois communities with 250 million gallons daily. Says Allen H. Wehrmann, director of the Center for Groundwater Science at the Illinois State Water Survey:
It would take more than a century to pump the aquifer dry even if no water returned through rainfall and other natural recycling, which amounts to about 40 million gallons per day, he said.
Even so, there can be a cumulative effect as demand is added.
“When you get down to the local level, there will be impact,” Wehrmann said. “You can’t take the water out of the ground without lowering water to some degree. Other well owners may see water levels fall. In some cases their pumps may go out of the water, and that may mean lowering a well or pump.”
Extended droughts and too much pavement, which prevents surface water from returning to the aquifer, would exacerbate the impacts. Continue reading New Harvest: Rain