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Water Sustainability Indicators and Biofuels Production

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The purpose of this paper is to illustrate the use of water sustainability indicators when applied to a current problem that has major water impacts. The work has been stimulated in part by the passage of the Energy and Independence Security Act (EISA) of 2007, which calls for significant government action regarding biofuels, including periodic reports to Congress. Part of this paper relies heavily on the work by the National Academy of Sciences, specifically the 2008 report entitled Water Implications of Biofuels Production in the United States.

Water sustainability solutions are characterized by certain systems analysis properties that may indicate the overall stability of the system. An important aspect of the approach we advocate is the principle that public policy issues act as driving forces in deciding which indicators are important. There may be many kinds of graphical and statistical displays, but indicators should be unique in providing some kind of information that facilitates public policy decision making. In the context of biofuel, key water resource issues (such as water availability and use, alternative use of feedstock, production options, and water quality issues) and the related indicators are discussed in this paper.

For each of the public policy issues, we have developed a series of suggestions about which indicators might assist policy makers. The issues include those water availability and use, alternative use of feedstock, production options, and water quality. There are probably many other indicators that could be developed to assist policy making concerning biofuels and water resources. Emerging issues such as algae to biofuels will be considered for sustainability indicators as it evolves. In this paper, we present at least a “starter set” that will begin the journey and we hope it will lead to greater water sustainability in the future. Specifically, we recommend that the work on algae to biofuels should be carefully tracked to discover how this technology could produce indicators that should be considered when national water policy issues are addressed.
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Keywords: Biofuel; algae to biofuels; sustainability indicator; sustainable water resources management; water availability; water quality; water sustainability

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2009-01-01

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