Watershed-scale impacts of bioenergy crops on hydrology and water quality using improved SWAT model

Raj Cibin, Elizabeth Trybula, Indrajeet Chaubey, Sylvie M. Brouder, Jeffrey J. Volenec

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


Cellulosic bioenergy feedstock such as perennial grasses and crop residues are expected to play a significant role in meeting US biofuel production targets. We used an improved version of the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) to forecast impacts on watershed hydrology and water quality by implementing an array of plausible land-use changes associated with commercial bioenergy crop production for two watersheds in the Midwest USA. Watershed-scale impacts were estimated for 13 bioenergy crop production scenarios, including: production of Miscanthus × giganteus and upland Shawnee switchgrass on highly erodible landscape positions, agricultural marginal land areas and pastures, removal of corn stover and combinations of these options. Water quality, measured as erosion and sediment loading, was forecasted to improve compared to baseline when perennial grasses were used for bioenergy production, but not with stover removal scenarios. Erosion reduction with perennial energy crop production scenarios ranged between 0.2% and 59%. Stream flow at the watershed outlet was reduced between 0 and 8% across these bioenergy crop production scenarios compared to baseline across the study watersheds. Results indicate that bioenergy production scenarios that incorporate perennial grasses reduced the nonpoint source pollutant load at the watershed outlet compared to the baseline conditions (0–20% for nitrate-nitrogen and 3–56% for mineral phosphorus); however, the reduction rates were specific to site characteristics and management practices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)837-848
Number of pages12
JournalGCB Bioenergy
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Forestry
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Waste Management and Disposal


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