Impact of wood pellet production on water availability
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The export of wood pellets from southeastern United States to the European Union is continuously increasing. It is quite likely that the area under forest cover will increase to meet the rising demand for wood pellets at the expense of other competitive land uses in southeastern states. This research analyzes the impact of an increase in forest area on the hydrology of a local watershed located in the Northeastern Oconee River Basin in Piedmont Georgia. Using spatial modeling, suitable sites for loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) production were determined. The results of suitability analysis were merged with historical records of land use change to project an increase in area under loblolly pine for 2016, 2021, and 2026. Then, a hydrological model (SWAT) was used to predict any changes in water discharges till 2028 for 14 scenarios in the presence of evolving land use changes. Results suggest that changes in land use in conjunction with variable climatic conditions could decrease or increase streamflow by up to 29% and 31% and evapotranspiration by up to 3% and 4%, respectively. Results of this study improve our understanding of sustainability of wood pellet production in southeastern states.