Water Quality Assessment of Large-scale Bioenergy Cropping Scenarios for the Upper Mississippi and Ohio-Tennessee River Basins

Yiannis Panagopoulos, Philip W. Gassman, Catherine L. Kling, Raj Cibin, Indrajeet Chaubey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


The Upper Mississippi River Basin and Ohio-Tennessee River Basin comprise the majority of the United States Corn Belt region, resulting in degraded Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico water quality. To address the water quality implications of increased biofuel production, biofuel scenarios were tested with a Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) model revision featuring improved biofuel crop representation. Scenarios included corn stover removal and the inclusion of two perennial bioenergy crops, switchgrass and Miscanthus, grown on marginal lands (slopes >2% and erosion rates >2 t/ha) and nonmarginal lands. The SWAT model estimates show water quality is not very sensitive to stover removal. The perennial bioenergy crops reduce simulated sediment, nitrogen (N), and phosphorus (P) yields by up to 60%. Simulated sediment and P reductions in marginal lands were generally twice that occurring in the nonmarginal lands. The highest unit area reductions of N occurred in the less sloping tile-drained lands. Productivity showed corn grain yield was independent from stover removal, while yields of the two perennial bioenergy crops were similar in the marginal and nonmarginal lands. The results suggest planning for biofuel production in the Corn Belt could include the removal of stover in productive corn areas, and the planting of perennial bioenergy crops in marginal land and in low-sloped tile-drained areas characterized by high N pollution. Editor's note: This paper is part of the featured series on SWAT Applications for Emerging Hydrologic and Water Quality Challenges. See the February 2017 issue for the introduction and background to the series.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1355-1367
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of the American Water Resources Association
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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