There are various reports being prepared right now examining the impact that a large-scale adoption of biofuels technologies would have on the Chesapeake restoration effort.
Some of the early press coverage on those reports have taken a simplified view and painted the impacts as only negative.
A few articles in the media have pointed to increased nutrient and sediment loads and have concluded that more reliance on biomass energy and biofuels production is not a strategy compatible with the Bay watershed’s cleanup.
In addition, some readers may have come away with the impression that state and federal environmental officials, as well as the environmental community, have a real dilemma on their hands. The story line goes that environmentalists cannot on the one hand promote biofuels, while on the other hand hope to restore the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Nothing could be further from the truth. If developed properly, increased production and use of biofuels can benefit Chesapeake Bay restoration.
For example, ethanol fuel development from corn has received quite a bit of attention recently on the increased nutrient loading it may cause in the Bay’s rivers and tributaries.
The magnitude of those increases vary widely depending on the number of increased acres that must be planted to meet ethanol demands. Some have estimated that the number of acres necessary to meet the ethanol need in the Chesapeake Bay watershed would be as high as 1 million acres. Some farm officials say that it is more likely that the peak increase would be an additional 250,000 acres.
So the acreage needed and the nutrient increase resulting from ethanol production from corn in the watershed varies by a factor of four.
In addition, the types of best management practices that would be used on these new corn acreages will also affect nutrient loading. Some interpretations of the data say that the numbers reflect what is actually happening on the farm today, others say it includes the use of all BMPs.
The extent of BMP deployment on a farm will also have a major impact on the amount of nutrient and sediment runoff reaching Bay waters.
There are those in the ethanol debate who say we should not develop ethanol from corn in a fermentation process, but derive ethanol from cellulosic fibers through hydrolysis. Using cellulosic feedstocks like corn stover or switchgrass grown specifically for energy production would negate the need for more corn acres.
But hydrolysis-based ethanol is not a technologically and economically viable process today. It will take at least five years to be able to scale up and adapt these processes for ethanol-based fuel production.
Many experts believe that we need the corn-based ethanol industry to thrive before there will be a market big enough for investors to put their money behind cellulosic hydrolysis facilities. Corn ethanol, in essence, is our training wheels to cellulosic hydrolysis.
The corn boom for ethanol is projected to last five to six years before the market for cellulosic ethanol is mature. If we build the ethanol infrastructure with fermented corn, let’s also assure that those corn acres be cultivated with maximum BMPs.
Ethanol from corn gives our agricultural community another market for a commodity that they know how to grow, and it increases farm economic viability at time when we are rapidly losing farms.
And we all know that when farms go out of business, forests rarely appear, but housing developments do. Which would we rather have, those acres planted in corn with full BMPs or more residential and commercial development with huge increases in nutrient and sediment flows?
The reports being produced on biofuels production will lay out the facts to the public. I hope the press will report the news both positive and negative, but not take an unbalanced view that biofuels production is necessarily bad for Chesapeake restoration.
Together we can finish the job!
Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay Opportunities
The Susquehanna Sojourn, which takes place July 16–22, will celebrate its 17th year by reaching the Chesapeake for the third time. Starting from Safe Harbor on July 16, sojourners will arrive in Port Deposit, MD, on July 21, where they will meet up with the crew of the shallop recreating the Chesapeake voyage of Capt. John Smith. Paddlers will follow the shallop and the John Smith 400 festivities to Perryville and Havre de Grace, MD. They will paddle along the upper edges of the Chesapeake Bay, and cross to Elk Neck State Park—weather permitting—to end the sojourn with a celebratory feast on the Eastern Shore. Contact Deborah Rudy at 717-737-8622 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
VA water monitors meeting
Join the Alliance July 21 at the University of Virginia-Charlottesville for the annual meeting of volunteer water quality monitors in the state. Topics at the all-day event range from using volunteer water quality data to habitat assessments. A free lunch is included. To register, contact Laurel Woodworth at 804-775-0951 or email@example.com or visit: www.virginiacwq.org/summit2007.htm.
BayScaping in public places
The Alliance is presenting a BayScaping for Corporate and Public Facilities Workshop Sept. 7 in Caroline County, VA. This daylong workshop will teach corporate and public property owners and managers about conservation landscape planning and maintenance. For details, contact Laurel Woodworth at firstname.lastname@example.org or 804-775-0951.
Chesapeake Watershed Forum
The Second annual Chesapeake Watershed Forum takes place Oct. 12–14 at The National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, WV.
The forum’s 2007 theme is “Growth and our Watersheds: Sharing, Strategies and Partnerships for Responsible Growth and Saving Our Streams and Bay.” For information, call Lou Etgen at 410-377-6270 or watch for registration and program details as they develop at www.AllianceChesBay.org/forum.cfm.