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Another Biofuels Drawback: The Demand for Irrigation

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Science  23 Oct 2009:
Vol. 326, Issue 5952, pp. 516-517
DOI: 10.1126/science.326_516

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At first blush, it's easy to make the case for biofuels. By converting crops into ethanol or biodiesel, farmers can reduce demand for imported oil, lower national dependence on authoritarian governments in the Middle East, and potentially cut greenhouse gas emissions. But dig a little deeper, and the story gets more complicated. Biofuels promise energy and climate gains, but in some cases, those improvements wouldn't be dramatic. And they come with some significant downsides, such as the potential for increasing the price of corn and other food staples. Now, a series of recent studies is underscoring another risk: A widespread shift toward biofuels could pinch water supplies and worsen water pollution. In short, an increased reliance on biofuel trades an oil problem for a water problem.