Is Beer the Next Frontier for Clean Water Utilities?

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There is a ‘yuck’ factor associated with what has traditionally been called Toilet to Tap initiatives in the arena of water reuse; but this may be changing.  With the summer upon us, and for some parts of the country, historic drought, comes renewed national attention on the issue of potable water reuse.  Two NACWA Member Agencies are pushing the boundaries by transforming treated effluent into a new end-product for consumption – beer.

Clean Water Services of Hillsboro, OR has initiated a project to donate their high-quality treated effluent to craft brewers to make ‘sewage beer’ for special events.  Similarly, in Milwaukee, WI, a wastewater engineer, Theera Ratarasarn, has undertaken an independent project of brewing Activated Sludge Wheat Ale, a beer made from purified Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District wastewater plant effluent.

In both cases, NACWA Member Agencies are sparking a national conversation about water reuse – and they seem to be succeeding.  These initiatives have received lots of media attention, including coverage by media outlets including the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The Oregonian, and NPR Blog.

The beers are safe to drink as they are thoroughly treated to higher purity levels than tap water. In Oregon, the water undergoes ultrafiltration, reverse osmosis, and advanced oxidation process using ultraviolet light. In Milwaukee, Ratarasarn chlorinates, dechlorinates, filters, distills, tests, and adds nutrients before brewing. Furthermore, according to the President of Milwaukee’s Lakefront Brewery, no known pathogen can grow in beer due to its lower pH (see video).

The beers aren’t just safe, they also taste good – both beers have so far received positive taste test reviews and face growing interest from craft brewers and the public. As a plus, brewers may even prefer purified wastewater to tap water because of its flat taste that makes it easier to build in flavors as part of the brewing process.

Yet, there’s a long way to go before wastewater beer can be commercially produced due to legal obstacles as well as cost uncertainties. For example, Oregon law prohibits human consumption of wastewater requiring Clean Water Services to go through a gauntlet of regulatory approvals.

Although there are currently many hurdles before “sewage beer” can become a widespread reality, these wastewater beer pioneers may help to add a new component to the Utility of the Future: craft breweries.

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This blog originally appeared as an article in NACWA’s Clean Water Advocate – The Utility of the Future Spotlight which features innovative efforts that advance the utility of the future initiative. We would love to receive input about projects that you think should be featured in the new Utility of the Future Spotlight. If you or an organization you know would be interested in being featured, please contact Amber Kim

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