Friday, March 14, 2008

By the way, you'll need water

It's a longstanding joke among people who sell land. The closing is over, signatures secured, the deed transferred, and after a final handshake, this off-hand comment is delivered over-the-shoulder:

By the way, you'll need water.

That's become the story of corn ethanol in the US, and it's no laughing matter.

Last year's energy bill requires 36 billion gallons of annual biofuels production by 2022 -- probably about half of them from corn. The measure, largely a giant gift to agribusiness interests, appeared to address both environmental and energy security issues, while really doing neither. And now what's surfacing is a threat to the nation's water security.

The question of water, like oil supply, takes us deep underground, where deposits of sand, gravel and silt store water in ancient aquifers. This supply of groundwater, which is what half of the nation relies on for drinking, is not inexhaustible.

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