Water, over half the planet is covered in this miraculous molecular compound. Water provides us with necessary hydration for our bodies, gives us means to grow crops and raise animals, it acts as a highway for boats and barges, and through water, humanity has thrived. The recipe for water is a relatively simple one, all you need is to combine one-part oxygen and two-part hydrogen and suddenly you have the key to life on earth. Water is arguably the most valuable resource that exists on planet earth and yet, it is quickly slipping out of our reach.
Water covers over seventy percent of earth’s surface, but only about three percent of that water is available for human use as freshwater. The main source of freshwater is permanent ice sheets, which makes up sixty-nine percent of global freshwater. The remaining supply of global freshwater is divided between groundwater and underwater aquifers, but groundwater makes up only one percent of global freshwater. Underwater aquifers makes up thirty percent of freshwater and is where the majority of Texas’s water demand is satisfied.
There are many contributors to water usage, but agriculture, home use, and industry, occupy the top three spots of major water consumers. In 2010, the Texas Water Development Board reported that the agricultural sector made up 58 percent of water demand, nearly all due to agricultural irrigation (TWDB, 2013).
Corn is the most widely produced crop in the state of Texas, contributing over $1.2 billion to the state’s economy ever year. Statewide, over 301 million bushels of corn are produced every year, and of this corn, 65 to 70 percent is under irrigation (Texas Corn, 2012). Furthermore, roughly 40 percent of Texas corn goes to a single cause—ethanol (Texas Corn, 2012).
Ethanol is a form of fuel with an alcohol base made by distilling and fermenting corn and other starch-based crops (Fuel Economy, 2009). Ethanol made its debut in the early 1970s, and by the late 1980s, ethanol was beginning to be used for fueling cars (Fuel-testers, 2012). Now in the midst of the green movement of the 2000s, ethanol can be found in over 90 percent of gasoline at public gas stations (Fuel-testers, 2012). This technology is being pushed to new extremes as it strives toward its goal of replacing gasoline as our main fuel source. Ethanol promises us less gas emissions, less dependence on foreign oil, and prolonged use of a healthier environment.
This happy picture ethanol has painted, however, might be too good to be true. As the demand for ethanol rises, the demand for corn grown by American farmers also rises. As the demand for corn rises, the water necessary to irrigate those crops also rises. As water use rises, our water supply diminishes. At first glance, ethanol as a new fuel supply appeared to be the answer to all of our problems, but now Americans need to reconsider this corn-grown miracle.
First and foremost, the water-to-ethanol payoff is shockingly low. Fully irrigated, corn...