Wisconsin is unfortunately buying into the same hyperbole over
ethanol and biodiesel plants - a legislative mandate requiring most
gasoline in the state contain 10% ethanol. The law is predicted to
pass this week and be signed by Governor Doyle next week.
Minnesota law already requires a 10% blend and a 20% blend to take
effect in 2012.
--- In All-Energy@yahoogroups.com, rlbarber@b... wrote:
Here's one for our resident Minnesota Hydrologist on this list-->
Subject: Star Tribune -- Not enough water in SW MN for ethanol, soy
Text of the article:
Water supply can't meet thirst for new industry In Minnesota's arid
southwest, doors are closing to coveted farm-related businesses,
particularly ethanol plants.
Greg Gordon, Star Tribune
Last update: December 25, 2005 at 8:49 PM
WASHINGTON - Cargill Inc. made the approach quietly about a year ago -
the kind of inquiry from an agribusiness giant that could set a sleepy
southwestern Minnesota town buzzing. Seizing on soaring demand for
alternative fuels, Cargill was exploring prospects for building a
plant near Pipestone that could produce 100 million gallons of corn-
based ethanol annually. Such a plant would be a boon to farmers and
create badly needed jobs.
But Dennis Healy, chief executive officer of the Lincoln-Pipestone
Rural Water System, said he had to squelch it: His utility couldn't
come close to meeting Cargill's need for more than 350 million
gallons of water each year.
It might be hard to imagine a water shortage in the Land of 10,000
Lakes. But in arid southwestern Minnesota, a scarcity of water has
forced utilities to distribute water from well fields via thousands
of miles of pipelines and to turn away more than a dozen coveted
factories that could make fuel and food from local farm products.
"People can see they're running out of water," said Tim Cowdery, a
Minnesota-based hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. "They'd
like to build more industry. They'd like to build more ethanol
plants. They just don't have the water to do it."
Cowdery and other water resource experts said the region's predicament
offers an early glimpse of the sorts of water shortage issues
expected to be commonplace across the country in decades to come as
demand rises. A farming region such as southwestern Minnesota faces a
. Farms need a lot of water for irrigation and livestock.
. Farm pesticide runoff has polluted groundwater, shrinking the
. Ethanol plants, soybean processing plants and slaughterhouses use
hundreds of millions of gallons more water.
The area relies, not on one large underground aquifer, but on many
smaller ones, and more than a century of well-drilling has pretty
much found what seems to be available. Healy said his water system
and three others have "searched for water throughout a fairly large
portion of the area. We haven't found anything in large enough
quantity to be of any real value."
The thirst of ethanol
Nowhere is the growing clash between economic development and water
conservation more evident than in the push to build ethanol plants
that typically guzzle 3½ to 6 gallons of water for every gallon of
fuel produced. Minnesota's 15 ethanol plants together consume about 2
billion gallons of water per year, and plants in Winthrop, Windom,
Marshall and Granite Falls are straining available water resources.
Two other ethanol plants under construction near Heron Lake and
Atwater "had to move from their original sites because there wasn't
an adequate supply of water," said Jay Trusty, executive director of
the Southwest Regional Development Commission.
While Gov. Tim Pawlenty's two-year-old JOBZone initiative offers tax
breaks to encourage businesses to locate in depressed areas, some
state officials privately question the wisdom of granting further
subsidies to ethanol plants that use so much precious water.
Matt Hartwig, a spokesman for the Washington-based Renewable Fuel
Association representing the nation's ethanol producers, said they
all are "constantly looking at ways to improve their efficiency," and
some are installing water treatment facilities so they can "recycle
more of the water that they use."
Help also is coming from a $400 million public works project in South
Dakota -- the Lewis & Clark Rural Water System -- that eventually will
pipe 3.78 million gallons of Missouri River water each day to
southwestern Minnesota and northwestern Iowa. But with shortfalls in
congressional funding, the system might not bring water to Minnesota
for another 10 to 20 years, and Healy cautions that it won't be
enough to support many new water-intensive factories.
The region is dry because of the whim of glaciers -- colossal masses
of ice that melted 10,000 years ago, creating lakes and riverbeds in
much of the rest of what is now Minnesota.
Because the glaciers didn't reach far to the southwest, that region
was left with much smaller sand and gravel deposits that formed
underground water basins, or aquifers. Lower-than-average rainfall
and higher temperatures have aggravated the problem.
Minnesota's western arid region extends all the way to the Canadian
border, but the geological survey's Cowdery said the southwestern
corner faces the worst "stress situation." A complicating factor is
the state's policy discouraging transfer of water from one major
basin, such as the Mississippi River watershed, to another. That
limits southwestern counties to water from the Missouri River basin.
Hydrogeologists from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
(DNR) closely monitor the rates at which water is pumped from area
wells to ensure that aquifers can recharge. They run tests on
withdrawal rates before approving proposed plants.
Jay Frischman, a DNR hydrogeologist, describes himself as "the grim
reaper" who delivers bad news to local communities trying to add
industry. He recalled advising managers of a farmer-owned soybean
processing plant under construction in Brewster in 2003 that the
wells they planned to use would not provide a long-term water source.
The owners escaped "what could have been a really big bind," he said,
because neighboring Heron Lake had drilled a highly productive well
for its yet-to-be-built ethanol plant. Constructing 10 miles of
pipeline to Heron Lake, the soybean plant bought enough water to
expand into biodiesel manufacturing.
Healy, the head of the Lincoln-Pipestone system that provides water
to all or parts of nine southwestern Minnesota counties, said that
utility is "getting by just barely today," approving few new hookups.
It pumps 1.3 billion gallons of water each year from three sets of
underground aquifers, distributing treated drinking water through
3,400 miles of underground pipelines to 3,000 farms and rural
homeowners and more than two dozen communities.
Healy said he has told 10 to 12 industrial applicants over the past
six years -- three in the past year -- that the system cannot fully
meet their water needs. He said Minnetonka-based Cargill requested 1
million gallons of water each day, but he could offer only 100,000 to
200,000 gallons. Don Habicht, general manager of Worthington's water
utilities, said he's turned away about two dozen projects over the
past 25 years.
Water got so tight in Marshall that its public utilities system
drilled a well field 20 miles to the east and plans to pipe in
700,000 gallons of water each year. Marshall is home to the Minnesota
Corn Processors plant owned by Archer Daniels Midland -- a plant that
makes corn sweeteners and 40 million gallons of ethanol each year,
and that bought 469 million gallons of water supplied by the city and
Lincoln-Pipestone last year, said Brad Roos, general manager of
Marshall's public utilities system.
Star Tribune staff writer Robert Franklin contributed to this report.
Greg Gordon is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau.