With a flood of ethanol plants headed toward Minnesota, there's growing concern about whether there will be enough groundwater to satisfy the booming industry's thirst. The issue was brought into focus last year in Granite Falls, where an ethanol plant in its first year of operations depleted the groundwater so much that it had to begin pumping water from the Minnesota River.
It takes between four and five gallons of water to produce a gallon of ethanol at a biofuel plant, and with 17 ethanol plants now operating in the state, six under construction and 10 more proposed or in the planning stages, the threat of more drains on underground water are rising. . .
The industry is consuming about 2 billion gallons of groundwater per year, according to state estimates. That amount could quadruple by 2011 if the state's ethanol production more than doubles, as expected. . .
All told, the state's 16 ethanol plants use a total of 1.9 billion gallons of water each year to produce over 562 million gallons of ethanol. With five new plants under construction, and several others looking to expand, the state's production capacity could reach one billion gallons by 2008, requiring the use of more than 4.3 billion gallons of water. That's slightly less water than was consumed by the city of St. Cloud in 2006.
Experts say there is a significant risk that increasing ethanol production could suck groundwater dry. Already, officials in and around the Midwest are delaying or denying approval of permits for ethanol plants out of concern for the water supply.
"What you want is to protect your water supply for future population and economic growth," says Jim Japs, assistant director of the DNR's Division of Waters. "Those are the two things that drive cities. Ultimately, if you don't have the water, you're not going to have the growth."