Clean Water Services (CWS), a water resources management utility in the Tualatin River Watershed, has been creatively exploring a new opportunity for the brewery industry. CWS is taking beneficial reuse of water to a new level by proposing the reuse of recycled water in the brewing process, a proposal first approved by the Oregon Health Authority in September 2014.

The reuse of recycled water in the brewing process has found support in various Oregon organizations: tests showed that the proposed treatment presents very low risk to human health, promotes the importance of conserving water, promotes the need to engage a dialogue about potable reuse, and would help meeting the growing demand for beers. The proposal has the potential to create a new market but raises a few issues.

Health and Sanitary Concerns

The recycled water must be treated to meet or exceed all regulated drinking water contaminant criteria. The analysis regarding the recycled water used to brew small batches of beer revealed that the water was at least as pure and clean as regular water used from municipal resources, and the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission approved the experimentation. A round of public comments on the question was held mid-April 2015. One of the concerns was that wastewater contains “emerging contaminants” that are not regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act or the Clean Water Act, and consequently, while the recycled water could meet technical drinking water requirements, it still could pose a threat to human health because some of the contaminants are not addressed in those requirements.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is currently revising CWS’s permit requirements to address these issues and make sure that all risks to human health are eliminated when using recycled water in beer production.

From the Brewers’ Perspective

While there appears to be potential for this new use of recycled water, not all players within the industry have embraced the idea yet. One brewery submitted a comment letter to DEQ in April, voicing concern that part of the approval for potable reuse relies on the boiling of water during the brewing process. This creates a potential liability for brewers, who feel like they should not carry this responsibility. The DEQ will have to tackle this issue in order to get a broader adhesion to the plan. However, if this barrier is cleared, the proposal could potentially allow local brewers to keep expanding their production without incurring higher costs for water use. This would be an important step towards making sure that brewers will be able to meet the growing national/international demand for Oregon beers.

The new permit requirement issued by the DEQ should be available in June and opened to public comments shortly after. It is likely that the use of recycled water will be approved in the near future at least for further experiments by some breweries. If DEQ issues the permit, only CWS will be able to use recycled water from wastewater for brewing purposes. DEQ’s approval is specific to CWS’s wastewater permit; other entities with a wastewater permit would need to seek separate approval from DEQ.

CWS anticipates giving the water to Oregon Brew Crew, to make small batches of beer to be served at events, not for sale. As part of the pilot project, CWS organized a competition in September 2014 featuring 16 homebrews made out of 30 percent recycled water. This summer the Oregon Brew Crew is planning on organizing another competition for beers made entirely out of recycled water, this time in August featuring about 20 members and their beer brewed from recycled sewage water.

The project has also raised interest in California as a way to promote water conservation, where the impacts of drought are much more pronounced.

This post was written with the assistance of Olivier Jamin, a Legal Extern with Stoel Rives LLP not currently licensed to practice law in Oregon.