Turning water into beer

Washington County’s recycled water can now be used by breweries and distilleries to make beer, whiskey and other adult beverages.

DEQ recently approved Clean Water Service’s request to expand their high purity recycled water program, allowing CWS to provide this water to commercial brewers and distilleries to produce alcoholic beverages for sale to the general population. This decision broadens DEQ’s approval in 2015 to allow home brewers to use this same process in a competition for distribution at trade shows.

Clean Water Services is the water resources management utility serving urban Washington County.  CWS uses a process that takes the highest quality of recycled water in state regulations from one of their four water resource recovery facilities and subjects it to a treatment train of ultrafiltration.

“CWS’ mobile treatment system—the Pure Water Wagon—utilizes a four step process of ultrafiltration, reverse osmosis, ultraviolet disinfection and advance oxidation to produce high purity water that is cleaner than drinking water,” said Mark Jockers, Government and Public Affairs Director for CWS.

DEQ’s water quality and Oregon Health Authority’s drinking water programs have reviewed and approved this treatment process for creating water that meets or exceeds federal and state drinking water standards. The same process is used in parts of Texas, New Mexico and California for domestic drinking water supplies.

“The use of recycled water can improve water quality by reducing discharges to rivers and streams and decreasing demand on clean water not being used for drinking,” said Pat Heins, DEQ’s Water Reuse Program Coordinator.

Since DEQ’s 2015 approval, Oregon Brew Crew has held five annual Pure Water Brew competitions for home brewers using the CWS high purity water. The pioneering work by CWS, Oregon Brew Crew and DEQ has spawned similar efforts worldwide with utilities partnering with home and commercial brewers in Florida, Arizona, Colorado, California, Idaho, Kentucky, Singapore and Portugal. In 2017, CWS joined other utilities, consultants, equipment manufactures and brewers to form the Pure Water Brewing Alliance to advance sustainable water management globally.   

The U.S. Brewers Association has reported that Oregon has 284 craft breweries (10th in the nation), which generated 1.03 million barrels of beer, or 32 million gallons (9th in the nation). Beer is 90 percent water and, according to the Brewers Association, it can take three to seven gallons of water to produce one gallon of beer at the brewery.

“We must judge water based on its quality, not its history,” said Jockers. “We are producing water that is fit for purpose—water that can be returned to environment; water for irrigation—even water for beer.  Water should be defined by its purpose, not its history or the level of treatment that it has received.”

Commercial brewers are scheduled to begin brewing with 100 percent pure recycled water in 2020 with the official launch scheduled at the 33rd Annual Oregon Brewers Festival at Portland’s Waterfront Park in July. 

“As our brewers are fond of saying, ‘all water aspires to be beer,’” added Jockers. “But this water really deserves it!”

Lauren Wirtis, Public Affairs Specialist

Published by Oregon Department of Environmental Quality

DEQ’s mission is to be a leader in restoring, maintaining and enhancing the quality of Oregon’s air, land and water.

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