Effects of the BioFuels Initiative on Water Quality and Quantity in the Mississippi Alluvial Plain

Author(s): Welch, H.; Coupe, R.

In the search for renewable fuel alternatives, biofuels have gained strong political momentum. In the last decade, extensive mandates, policies, and subsidies have been adopted to foster the development of a biofuels industry in the U.S. The manifestation of the Biofuels Initiative in the Mississippi Delta was a 47-percent decrease in cotton acreage with a concomitant 288 percent increase in corn acreage in 2007. Because corn uses 60 percent more water for irrigation than cotton, and more nitrogen fertilizer is recommended for corn cultivation, this crop type change has implications for water quantity and quality in the Delta. Increased water use for corn is accelerating water-level declines in the Mississippi River Valley alluvial aquifer at a time when conservation is being encouraged due to concerns about sustainability. A mathematical model calibrated to existing conditions in the Delta shows that increased fertilizer applications on corn will increase the extent of nitrate movement into the alluvial aquifer. Estimates based on surface-water modeling results indicate that higher application rates of nitrogen from increased corn production increases the amount of nitrogen exported from the Yazoo River basin to the Gulf of Mexico by about 7 percent; increasing the Delta’s contribution to hypoxic conditions in the Gulf of Mexico.

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Technical Sessions

Session I Sedimentation
Session II Weather/Climate
Session III Coastal Resources
Session IV Surface Water Management
Session V Wetlands
Session VI Education
Session VII Management/Planning
Session VIII Wetlands
Session IX Delta Groundwater
Session X Nutrients
Session XI Delta Water Resources
Session XII Ports

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