U.S. Biofuel Policies and Domestic Shifts in Agricultural Land Use and Water Balances
Thursday, 18 December 2014: 8:15 AM
Policies promoting domestic biofuels production could lead to significant changes in cropping patterns. Types of direct and indirect land use change include: switching among crops (displacement
), expanding cropped area (extensification
), and altering water/soil management practices (e.g. irrigation, tillage) (intensification
). Most studies of biofuels water use impacts calculate the water intensity of biofuels in liters of irrigated/total evapotranspired water per unit energy of biofuels. But estimates based on this approach are sensitive to assumptions (e.g. co-product allocation, system boundaries), and do not convey policy-relevant information, as highlighted by the issue of land use change. We address these shortcomings by adopting a scenario-based approach that combines economic modeling with crop-water modeling of major crops and biofuel feedstocks. This allows us to holistically compare differences in water balances across policy scenarios in an integrated economic/agricultural system. We compare high spatial resolution water balance estimates under three hypothetical policy scenarios: 1) a counterfactual no-policy scenario, 2) modified Renewable Fuels Standard mandates (M-RFS2), & 3) a national Low Carbon Fuel Standard plus a modified RFS2 scenario (LCFS+RFS2). Differences between scenarios in crop water balances (i.e. transpiration, evaporation, runoff, groundwater infiltration, & irrigation) are regional and are a function of changes in land use patterns (i.e. displacement, intensification, & extensification), plus variation in crop water-use characteristics. Cropped land area increases 6.2% and 1.6% under M-RFS2 and LCFS+RFS2 scenarios, respectively, by 2030. Both policy scenarios lead to reductions in net irrigation volumes nationally compared to the no-policy scenario, though more irrigation occurs in regions of the Midwest and West. The LCFS+RFS2 reduces net irrigation water use by 3.5 times more than M-RFS2. However, both policies drive extensification and hence greater net transpiration (i.e. economically useful water consumption), at the expense of groundwater infiltration, which recharges surface & groundwater stocks. Our study illustrates potential tradeoffs in water resource availability that might result from domestic policies promoting bioenergy.