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Arizona Group Using Beer to Win Acceptance for Wastewater Reuse

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Courtesy of Fluence Corporation

An Arizona group is leveraging interest in craft beer to educate the public about water scarcity and the growing need for water reuse by having the public taste brews created from treated wastewater.

The Pima County Southwest Water Campus is aiming to eliminate negative public perception of water reuse by using a touring beer tasting to promote the process as a viable solution for water scarcity. The concept was awarded The New Arizona Prize: Water Innovation Challenge for the solution.

Arizona Group Using Beer to Win Acceptance for Wastewater Reuse

The group is creating a small-scale, mobile water treatment plant that will stop to process water at municipal water treatment plants. Some of the treated water will be given to breweries to make a special beer that will be entered into a contest with other craft beer made using reclaimed water. The public will also be provided with water.

Some experts say beer is a great tool for water education since brewing originated as a means of making water safe to drink.

Arizona has long pressed for water reuse, according to the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association:

  • Back in 1926, a treatment plant was built at the Grand Canyon Village for the purpose of reclaiming wastewater for non-drinking purposes. In 1932, the City of Phoenix produced reclaimed water for agricultural uses. Most notably, AMWUA negotiated in 1973 an agreement with Arizona Public Service (APS) to provide reclaimed water for cooling purposes at the Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant, the only nuclear power plant in the world to be cooled with reclaimed water. Reclaimed water is also stored underground for later use.

A dozen Tucson-area craft breweries have reportedly been approached to participate in the challenge. Tristan White, manager of Dragoon Brewing Co., says his brewery is considering participating in the project to draw attention to the state’s water shortage. White adds that beer can help educate people about potable water reuse.

The ‘Ick Factor’

This is not the first modern instance in which beer has been enlisted to dispel notions surrounding the so-called ick factor, organizers of the Meeting of the Minds sustainability conference held a blind taste test including a beer made from recycled wastewater supplied by NASA and brewed by Mavericks Brewing Co. in 2015.

Proponents of water recycling say it is essential to dispel some of the misconceptions regarding taste to gain public acceptance, which is critical since new sources of drinking water are needed worldwide. Treating sewer water to drinkable standards for immediate reuse, also known as direct potable reuse, could save California hundreds of billions of gallons of water that are now dumped into the Pacific Ocean annually.

Oregon’s Pure Water Brew Challenge

Arizona isn’t the only state where this is happening. Oregon’s Clean Water Services has worked with home brewers for several years to demonstrate that good beer can be made from reused water through its annual Pure Water Brew Challenge. Contestants are provided treated wastewater to brew a low-gravity beer, a style that “can’t be accused of hiding anything.”

This year’s winning brews, with beers from Florida and Wisconsin, were showcased at a tasting in September during the Water Environment Federation Technical Exhibition and Conference. As the competition notes, “It’s time that we judge water by its quality and not its history.”

Brian Haslip, vice president of the Oregon Brew Crew and chairman of Oregon’s Sustainable Water Challenge, said:

  • The population is growing, the climate is changing, and drought is threatening sources of clean water in the West and around the world, but there’s hope in new technologies that purify water safely and efficiently. […] We need to think creatively about water and help people overcome the ‘ick’ factor in wastewater reuse.

Legalizing Water Reuse

In light of ongoing water scarcity, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality is considering making water reuse legal in the state. New legislation may be introduced starting in 2017.

Meanwhile, the Southwest Water Campus has received the agency’s permission to serve both potable reuse water and beer.

Jeff Prevatt, regulatory compliance manager at Pima County’s Regional Wastewater Reclamation Department, added that project should help in the design of potable reuse regulations for Arizona:

  • We’re kind of a pilot for the state. […] It’s not just a fun project to win this contest. […] Now, you don’t throw aluminum and cardboard away; you recycle it. We shouldn’t be disposing of water; we should be putting every drop to use.

The consortium not only won $250,000 in the New Arizona Prize: Water Innovation Challenge, but also received a grant of up to $50,000 in technical assistance from the WaterNow Alliance, according to Pima County. With the bonus award of the Water Innovation Challenge Audience Choice award, the total prize was $302,500.

The Southwest Water Campus includes employees from the Pima County Regional Wastewater Reclamation DepartmentTucson Water, Town of Marana, University of Arizona, Carollo Engineers, CH2M, Clean Water Services and Water Reuse. The organization expects to make its first educational tour this summer.

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