10 Dec 2009

Speed Blogging

These are good, really good:
  • Sheila Kuehl (former Assemblywoman) writes clearly on how California's water bills are useless and expensive (and other things, but she's brutally honest!). Read all her essays!

  • Water hogs: "Farmers in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas use, on average, 323.6 gallons of water to produce one gallon of ethanol from corn, with all but 3 of those gallons used for irrigation. The GAO said that's 20 to 30 times the amount of water used in... corn producing regions where rainfall is more plentiful.

  • Lake Peigneur drains down a 14 inch hole (wow!)

  • "The world would be better if we praised folks more for what they did than who they are." Hear hear!

  • The Global Corruption Report 2008 - Corruption in the Water Sector. Damn, I have to read this. So many chapters on interesting cases and countries. Wow.

  • No surprise: "Uranium from polluted mine in Nevada wells," but Surprise! "An administrative judge ruled last year that the BLM illegally fired Dixon in 2004 in retaliation for speaking out about the health and safety dangers at the mine." What? Fire BLM for a cover up!

  • USAID is actually helping farmers in developing countries get improved access to markets (but has still not stopped dumping food and destroying market incentives).

  • Food security is rising (good) but so is food self-sufficiency (bad). Trade grows even more important as a means of insuring against the volatility of climate change. [Sign the petition against green protectionism.]

  • A health care parable -- the price is higher if you decide what to do and someone else pays
hattips to DL, JM and DW


  1. WaterSource/WaterBank10 Dec 2009, 14:34:00


    Do you ever check the numbers ? How much water does your calculations show it takes to produce a gallon of ethanol in KS?

    Did the Associated Press Writer correctly state the findings of the November study from the Government Accountability Office quoting the Argonne National Laboratory data ?

    Aren't Government numbers a shotgun affect all over the map ... just in case someday one of them is holds water ?

    In December 2008, according to the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Resource Economics and Social Sciences Division in Nebraska and Kansas, the average irrigation needed per bushel of corn is between 2,000 and 3,000 gallons of water.

    According to another report, a bushel of corn produces 2.7 gallons of ethanol ... using the USDA's numbers... that equates to 1000 gallons of water per gallon of ethanol.

    According to my calculations, that's about 6 AF/acre ! (rice ?) ... what do your numbers show ??

    Have you referred to the KS corn producer as a "Water Hog", without relying on any personal knowledge, research or calculation ?


  2. My (Kansas) numbers (gallons of water to produce a gallon of ethanol) coincide fairly closely with those reported by DZ. I also agree that all but 3 of those gallons are tied up in the production (irrigation) of the crop.

    It's also abundantly clear that corn grown in non-irrigated regions will lower that water use tremendously. However, the point is that the ethanol movers and shakers are aggressively promoting ethanol production with their eye only on the target production level. They should have placed restrictions on where the corn for ethanol production must be grown if they were at all concerned about water use.

    You can't fault Kansas corn producers (or any corn producer) for producing corn for ethanol as long as their economics of production are favorable - actually better than pre-ethanol levels.

    If you think 323 gallons of water per gallon of ethanol is a waste, or bad policy, or whatever (as DZ is implying), it is the policy drivers who are to blame for this situation - not the producers.

    We began very early questioning the efficacy of ethanol goals and the impacts of these goals on water use - especially in water short areas. At that time only the water use for ethanol production was being discussed - the proverbial "tip of the iceberg". Yes, it's the policy makers who haven't listened and are just now beginning to get it.

  3. @WS/WB -- I've done none of these things, but Wayne knows what's up. (Thanks Wayne!) They are not from MY report, but the GAO (and others, I am sure...)

  4. That lake disappearing was amazing.

    As for the food markets, I think the problem countries faced in 07-08 will be a recurring problem, but I disagree on the Economist's definition of the problem: I saw it as an over-emphasis on import markets for food, which creates country-by-country specializations, but increases risk. Food markets are different from other markets, because of the required variety of the diet for proper nutrition, as well as the day-to-day need of new products and shelving. In addition, food production through specialization, in the form of large monocultural practices, leads to long-term ecological degradation, which in turn affects food production as well as other living conditions (water, dust storms, pollution from runoff, etc.).

    Add to this the nature of regional food systems, which tend to have complete nutritional needs, based on the traditional food supplies of given regions. When similar, but not exactly equal food items overwhelm local markets, there is some research showing that this can lead to nutritional imbalances that cause or exacerbate disease. Also, over-specialization can lead to pestilence epidemics, and if markets have crowded out genetic diversity, we can be left in a bad place (like potato famine and the loss of certain banana species, for examples). In other markets, a market correction will cause some pain, but fix the situation over time. In food, however, if you don't fix it in a matter of days, you either have mass starvation, or you have riots.

    Throw the vitality of food in with political boundaries, (like in your "water weapon" blog post), and countries have very big incentives to provide diverse nutrition in-house.

    Now, I'm worried about other ramifications, as Mister Kurtz and Eric have pointed out in your blog, but neither can we overlook the importance of cushions and redundancies (or "inefficiencies" in econospeak) in food systems for people.

  5. Wayne Bossert,

    Would you mind showing how you got the same numbers ?

  6. Yep, agree with Josh on the food issue. It's a better thing to have increased local self-sufficiency. Trade will still be present, because (for example) I cannot grow bananas without running a huge heating bill in Colorado. But if we continued on the specialization language so inherent in (bone-straight) neo-classical economics, all that I'd have available nearby would be...let's see, corn, switchgrass (blech!), and beef. And some garlic from the Arkansas. So I'm happy to see local producers, and support htem, with a variety of product.
    But I wouldn't worry, we're well beyond the days of being able to produce "everything" consumed locally, say within 100 miles. Not gonna happen (anymore).

  7. WS/WB: Here in NW Kansas our corn irrigators are pumping typically from .9 AF/ac to 1.38 AF/a on corn - depending on the seasonal rainfall. They average about 1.1 AF/ac. Of this pumped quantity, approximately 80% is consumptively used, or .88 AF/ac. This consumptive use equals 286,748 gallons per acre.

    With an average yeild of 185 bushels per acre, each bushel uses 1,550 gallons. With about 3 gallons of ethanol per bushel, each gallon of ethanol uses 516 gallons.

    The report DZ referenced said that ND, SD, NE and KS averaged 323 gallons of water per gallon of ethanol. Since NW KS is on the drier, western edge of this 4-state area, we'd be on the high side of the average. From my perspective, it appears that the reports numbers are reasonable.

    If you find errors in my calculations, please let me know. I also have reported water use data (from meters) to qualify the water use I began the calculations with. I hope this is helpful.


Spam will be deleted. Comments on older posts must be approved.
If you're having problems posting, email your comment to me