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Midwest drought a learning opportunity

November 16, 2012 12:10 am

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Brad Crookshank, wastewater superintendent for the ADM corn processing plant talks about the plant^BENT^0027^EENT^s water needs.

BY DAVID MERCER

BY DAVID MERCER

The Associated Press

DECATUR, Ill.

--At the height of this year's drought, decision-makers at the agribusiness giant Archers Daniels Midland kept an uneasy eye on the reservoir down the hill from their headquarters.

At one point, the water level fell to within 2 inches of the point where the company was in danger of being told for the first time ever that it couldn't draw as much as it wanted. The company uses millions of gallons of water a day to turn corn and soybeans into everything from ethanol and cattle feed to cocoa and a sweetener used in soft drinks and many other foods.

Rain eventually lifted Lake Decatur's level again. But the close call left ADM convinced that, like many Midwestern companies and the towns where they operate, it could no longer take an unrestricted water supply for granted, especially if drought becomes a more regular occurrence due to climate change or competition ramps up among water users.

While companies in the Great Lakes region and other parts of middle America long counted on water being cheap and plentiful, they now realize they must conserve because finding new water sources is difficult and expensive--if it can be done at all.

"You've got to plan for the worst, and be prepared for that," said Brad Crookshank, the wastewater superintendent for ADM's corn processing plant in Decatur. "There's not a lot of low-hanging fruit for additional water supplies."

ADM, which pumps more water out of Lake Decatur than any other consumer, wasn't the only big water-user affected by the drought. Two Midwestern power plants shut down for periods this summer because they lacked water to operate, according to Midwest ISO, the electrical-grid operator for the region. MISO spokesman Brandon Wright declined to identify the plants because they're owned by grid clients.





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