Clean-Water Industry Raises a Foamy Glass to Water Reuse

The Pure Water Brewing Alliance looks to raise awareness of water reuse and treatment technologies over a friendly glass of beer.

Clean-Water Industry Raises a Foamy Glass to Water Reuse

If you’ve been to WEFTEC recently or follow the news closely, then you know about beers made from recycled wastewater. No such beers are going to market anytime soon, but they’ve been brewed and taste tested in a variety of venues, including an annual Sustainable Beer Smackdown held at WEFTEC in each of the past three years.

In line with growth in small-scale brewing, the making of “reuse” beers has caught on with a number of clean-water entities, including Clean Water Services in Oregon, the Pima County (Arizona) Regional Wastewater Reclamation Department, Hillsborough County in Florida, and Pure Water San Diego. They’ve provided raw material to home and craft brewers to create beers of various kinds for contests and special events.

The Water Environment Federation believes brewing with highly purified wastewater is a great way to start conversations with the public about the power of water treatment technology and the importance of water reuse as a part of the national and global water resource picture.

To that end, WEF created the Pure Water Brewing Alliance, an informal group of utilities, brewers, industry associations, and businesses. Travis Loop, WEF senior director of communications and public outreach, and Barry Liner, director of the WEF Water Science & Engineering Center, talked about the alliance in an interview with Treatment Plant Operator.

TPO: What are the origins of beers made from purified wastewater?

Liner: It started in 2014 with Clean Water Services’ first Pure Water Brew competition. They teamed with Carollo Engineers and Oregon’s largest home brewer association for a contest featuring beer made with highly purified water drawn from the Tualatin River, just downstream from their treatment facilities.

In 2015, we had the first Smackdown at WEFTEC where Clean Water Services and a home brewer from Milwaukee brought their beers. In 2016, Hillsborough County joined. Last year, Pima County held the Arizona Pure Water Brew Challenge involving 30 commercial craft brewers. Those beers were highlighted at the WateReuse Symposium in Phoenix and at WEFTEC. It has led to a lot of great discussion that water should be judged by its quality, not its history.

TPO: How did the Pure Water Brewing Alliance originate?

Loop: In light of all these things happening around the country with different utilities, municipalities, and brewers, we decided late last summer to informally bring those involved together to promote water reuse and the related technology, using beer as a way to raise public awareness around those issues. 

TPO: Who specifically is involved so far?

Liner: WEF hosts the website. Members include Clean Water Services, Pima County, Hillsborough County, Carollo Engineers, CDM Smith, and Black & Veatch. Another member is Xylem, which provided the treatment technology that some agencies used. We also have Stone Brewing, a craft brewer who earlier this year brewed five kegs of San Diego reuse beer.

Loop: The Brewers Association, which is the association for the craft brewing industry, is not officially a member of our alliance, but we were able to talk to their Sustainability Committee last year at the Craft Brewers Conference. This spring, we’ll have a booth at their conference so that we can talk to more craft brewers about water reuse and all the related issues. Brewers across the country are very aware of water usage and water treatment.

TPO: What’s the advantage of wrapping discussions about water quality and water treatment around brewing and beers?

Liner: It’s more fun to talk about beer than about water. So many people are into craft beers and home brewing. Because water is well over 90 percent of beer and is the crucial ingredient, this approach makes perfectly good sense.

TPO: Do you see reuse beer helping to move the industry down the road toward making direct potable reuse of wastewater more acceptable to the public?

Loop: Direct potable reuse is not our real goal. The goal of the Pure Water Brewing Alliance and those involved with it is to raise awareness about water reuse and its potential — to help educate the public about what technology can accomplish and the quality of water it can produce.

Liner: We would like to have water reuse accepted as a part of a diverse, sustainable portfolio of water resources. That might be potable reuse, it might be nonpotable reuse, it might be stream flow augmentation. If beer helps us start the conversation about water quality, then potable reuse definitely comes out of that, but the main goal is to make reuse understood as a viable alternative for any type of water resource.

TPO: What treatment does the wastewater effluent have before the brewers go to work on it?

Liner: It goes through a multibarrier process that can include ultrafiltration, reverse osmosis, UV/advanced oxidation, granular activated carbon, and chlorine disinfection. It’s ridiculously high-quality water. After RO, they actually have to add minerals back in before they start brewing because otherwise the water is too pure. 

TPO: How would you characterize the reactions to brewing with reuse water, both inside and outside the water professions?

Loop: Across the water sector, people have been excited to be part of it. The Smackdown is one of the most popular events at WEFTEC — it always draws a crowd. In Arizona last September, they got two dozen brewers to enter their contest. That shows a lot of interest and support.

Liner: Outside the industry, not all the reaction is positive because some people are still thinking with their emotions and not looking at the science. There’s always that “toilet to tap” fear. We need to remember in the first place why humans ever started brewing beer and making wine, mead, sake or chicha. For 10,000 years, it was basically to figure out a way to drink pond water. The quality that comes out in reuse beer is far better than that.

TPO: Has news about reuse beer broken out beyond the water and wastewater professionals community?

Loop: Beer from wastewater has definitely been in the mainstream media. It has been on some of the late-night TV talk shows. A TV station in Colorado had a story about three beers made from purified wastewater. Arizona had articles about its contest, as did Clean Water Services in Oregon. There has been coverage on TV and radio and in print media in those markets.

TPO: Have you personally seen any cases of reuse beer capturing someone’s attention?

Liner: I told a cousin of mine about reuse beer. She asked, “How can I open a brewery that does this?” I told her we couldn’t sell it yet. She went home, and that night, she started texting me that her 10-year-old twin daughters were intrigued about the process. I ended up texting with them for an hour and a half and later sending them some books about microbiology and water quality. Those two girls are now into science and water quality because of a discussion about reuse beer. That’s the kind of thing we’re looking for.

TPO: How can operators embrace this initiative and advance the cause of water reuse?  

Liner: They can tell people, “Heck yes, I’d drink it!” Everybody who works in a utility is a marketing representative, and that includes operators. They can help by promoting what they do, which is turning out very high-quality water and providing opportunities to improve the environment and foster industrial and economic growth. Maybe eventually they’ll be able to go to a bar and have a drink from what they work on every day.


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