A growing number of breweries have shifted Astoria from a drive-by town to a craft beer and spirits destination. But as the fermentation cluster of breweries, distilleries and cideries grow in Astoria, it’s leading to more waste being generated from leftover yeast, hops and other proteins. In response, the City of Astoria is expected to implement a new system later this month to address the growing concerns of waste discharged from this industry into Astoria’s wastewater treatment plant. We’ll hear from Cindy Moore, assistant city engineer for Astoria, on how this new system works. David Kroening, co-founder of Buoy Beer, and Jeremy Towsey-French, founder of Reveille Ciderworks, will also join us to share how this new system will change their costs and ways to handle waste.
The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer:
Dave Miller: Breweries, distilleries and cideries on Oregon’s north coast have grown into what’s known as Clatsop County’s fermentation cluster. As the industry has grown, so has the volume of wastewater with yeast and hops and grains. In response the city of Astoria is expected to implement a new system later this month to deal with all of that waste. For more on what this means, I’m joined by Cindy Moore, Assistant City Engineer for Astoria, Kroening, one of the founders of Buoy Beer and Pilot House and Jeremy Towsey-French, the founder of Reveille Ciderworks. It’s good to have all three of you on the show. What’s the problem in the big picture that you and other folks at the city level set out to solve?
Cindy Moore: What we’ve found is with the success of these businesses, the discharge to our sewer system and our wastewater treatment plant, the organic matter, has increased. We measure the B.O.D.- biochemical oxygen demand. One of the limits that the city has, through our permit, includes this organic matter. And without any increase in population growth, we saw a dramatic increase in the level of that organic matter in our system causing some disruption to our treatment.
Miller: Can you give us a sense for what exactly is in the waste that’s being created at the brewery or at your distillery?
David Kroening: Sure, it’s something we kind of have to define with everyone, we talked about a little bit. Wastewater can be a whole lot of different things. But for the fermentation cluster it is primarily organic byproducts of our brewing, distilling, cider making processes. So primarily, it’s a lot of things like the yeast that converts sugars and alcohol. For us and the beer side it’s possibly hops or barley residue or leftover proteins, things like that. So it’s really just organic soluble matter in the water.
Miller: And what about the waste or wastewater at a cidery?
Jeremy Towsey-French: For a nano sized cidery like ours, it really is predominantly yeast. We’re not a crushing facility. Some of the larger cideries do their own crushing. So there are some additional solids. We do use hops and citrus zest and some of these other things. But most of that is captured prior to entering the wastewater stream.
Miller: So to take yeast as an example, what’s the issue if there is, as Jeremy said, a nano size, a small size. But let’s imagine, say for Buoy or Fort George [breweries], a lot more yeast going into the water treatment system and facility. So what’s the problem?
Moore: Well, a couple of different things we’ve noticed is that that kind of biological matter can actually grow substances in our pipes. So we’ve seen some slime in our pipes which can really cause problems in our collection system and through our pump stations and lift stations. And then at our wastewater treatment plant our wastewater treatment plant is the lagoon system and it relies on microorganisms to treat the waste before it’s discharged to the Columbia River. We’re at the mouth of the Columbia River in Astoria. And if the B.O.D. level is too high (and yeast is one of the highest contributors), it can cause the oxygen levels to drop dramatically in our lagoon systems. Our microorganisms can’t do their jobs so the treatment [of the wastewater] doesn’t happen.
Miller: How big an increase in this solid waste have you seen in Astoria as these businesses have become larger and more successful?
Moore: What we saw over about a 10-year period is that the B.O.D. level doubled at our wastewater treatment plant. So what we would expect from a population of about 10,000, which was what we’ve been for quite some time (and certainly since the wastewater treatment plant was built in 1974). Those levels went essentially similar to a population of 20,000 people or even more. And just to be clear, for the most part, it isn’t solids that are coming to us. These beverage producers are really good about getting their solids out of their system because it also plugs their pipes. This is a very concentrated liquid that has the organic components.
Miller: What does happen to the solids?
Kroening: So right now we sidestream out the highest strengths away. So that’s the really thick yeast slurry and things we pulled directly off tanks. Those go to a separate waste stream that we’re able to send off site that gets mixed with our grain that goes to farmers and things like that. The problem is that we have the less, we’ll call it, not high strength but still more [organic matter] than the city would like to see. And so that’s what we’re partnering with the city on - to solve for how we handle that.
Miller: So can you explain the change - what the city is now going to be putting in place?
Moore: Sure. So our resolution that we had to manage wastewater and discharges from businesses had really general statements, like no discharging unusual B.O.D. and no discharging slug loads and some really general comments. So what we’ve done is taken what we had in our existing resolution and built a foundation of a program that very specifically lays out what these industries can discharge so that they can manage their pretreatment systems effectively and successfully - without these very broad terms of “unusual B.O.D”. So we have used the EPA pretreatment ordinance as a national template. And we have modified it to customize it to our unique situation in Astoria, where our only industrial discharges are the fermentation beverage cluster businesses.
Miller: What is industrial pretreatment going to mean for your brewery and your distillery?
Kroening: So I think that’s what we’re all grappling with now. I think Astoria has had a resurgence and being a great place to come visit and live. Over the last 10 or 20 years that’s continued to get better. We feel the fermentation sector has been a big part of that - revitalizing old buildings, bringing tourists to town - but also providing some light manufacturing jobs to the tune of a few hundred in the county. And even in 2017 the city adopted this economic plan and that was one of the main areas that they wanted to see growth. They encouraged growth in the fermentation cluster. And that was prior to anybody really understanding the significant issues that were going to be posed by some of the by-products of growth in that sector.
And so when ourselves and Fort George began to grow rapidly and then others came in, like Jeremy and Reveille and some other breweries in the area, it became, all of a sudden, this need to do something about this. And the challenge that poses on the businesses quickly is the need to pivot. We need to come up with a whole bunch of money to put in some of these pre treatment systems, to partner with the city and make sure it works.
But also [there are] some unknowns in the future [like] what type of capacity is the city going to have. Cindy mentioned that our treatment plant is from 1974 and while it might work or did work for the population at the time, what does Astoria want for its economic development? What kind of growth do we want? And how do we all partner together to make sure that, like many towns in the country, aging infrastructure hasn’t had, necessarily, the funding to be attended to. And so how do we grow that collectively to make sure we accomplish the goals that we all agreed we wanted.
Miller: You brought up a lot there, but just to focus in on the local infrastructure or hardware that you’re going to have to put in. Is it the case that it’s going to be like some kind of filter system or something that you’ll have to treat the lower strength wastewater that you had been just flushing away and that was going to lagoons? Now it’ll be up to you and Fort George and others too to somehow filter that first?
Kroening: Yes. So Fort George and I had recently had expansions and put in very similar systems working with the same consultant and so it’s a system, as I said, we separate out the high strength and send that off site, but then everything everything that hits the floor is collected into a holding system and we’re able to treat for ph and temperature and things like that. We’re not yet able to treat for B.O.D.’s because those systems get rapidly expensive very quickly. So that’s where we’re partnering with the city to see how we meet their needs.
Miller: Do you have a sense for how much this might increase the cost of production?
Kroening: The first step was a pretty significant investment and will be ongoing. We’re hiring full time people to be able to manage this type of processing system. We don’t yet have a full cost on what the next step would be, but I haven’t yet seen how it’s going to be completely feasible to meet the residential limits that are in the ordinance. But that’s where the industrial treatment plant comes in. That gives us a little bit of leeway,
Miller: At the cider works, you said at the beginning that you are a nano sized, very small maker of cider. But my understanding is you’re expanding to quadrupling your production soon. What are you thinking about right now in terms of wastewater?
Towsey-French: The city obviously has been working on this for some time with our friends at Fort George and Buoy. And they approached us as well to get some insights into how we handle it. As we look to expand it impacts us at a different scale, but very similarly, we’re also looking at ways that we can pre treat that water. This is a twofold issue. This isn’t a problem that exists because of our industry. It’s exacerbated by this industry. This is really about our industries’ need to remove as much solid organic waste from the wastewater as is fair and reasonable.
And it’s also about [how] our city wastewater facilities need to effectively handle these conventional pollutants, whether it’s from service-based businesses or industries because it does impact us and we need to be able to address it at the source. But we also need a facility that can handle the change in Astoria and thus accommodate our growth. Because even at our size, it means more labor, it does mean increased costs, infiltration and a lot more process in terms of the actual physical process of managing that wastewater and also the process in managing the policy itself, the ordinance which has its own separate set of issues outside of the actual problem itself.
Miller: Well, so Cindy Moore, both David Kroening and Jeremy Towsey-French have brought up, in respectful ways, their concerns about the viability of Astoria’s almost 50 year-old wastewater treatment system. These lagoons. Given the expected growth, both industrial growth, which can feed jobs and just population growth in the area, do you have a sense for the rest of the lifespan of the existing system?
Moore: Well that’s an interesting question. We did a facility plan for our wastewater treatment plant that was completed back in 2011, that showed plenty of capacity for our population growth for the next 25 years. So at that time, the breweries and the cider house and distilleries were small facilities in our town. So the growth of that industry wasn’t necessarily predicted at that time frame, when we did the plan. We have also had to pivot and look at what we can do to increase the capacity to support these businesses, which includes a project that was anticipated. But it was amended to include $1 million dollars of infrastructure that will help to increase the capacity to support these businesses.
What we’re having ongoing conversations about is whether it is better to look at treatment at the site before it gets mixed with everything else in our system. Because our flows are dramatically different in the summer than they are in the winter. We have a combined sewer system where the storm water is introduced into the sewer system. So in the winter there’s 20 times more flow to our wastewater treatment plant. That presents a variety of issues, but this B.O.D. concern is an interesting one.
So is there a need to do additional improvements to our wastewater treatment plant or should we be looking at other options? Because what they both touched on is that if they can keep the material out of the sewer system and either make it an asset for farms at least during some times of the year and then potentially have somewhere else to take it with a different creative solution, then it really doesn’t impact the entire public system.
Miller: But isn’t there a big difference in terms of who’s paying for it? If it’s a pre-treatment system that you and other businesses are putting in? I imagine you have to pay for it and if it’s a more robust municipal system, everybody pays for it. Right.
Koening: Yeah, naturally. And I think part of what we wanna continue working with the city on and brainstorming and looking at new technologies is when we’re talking about the fermentation cluster that’s at the table. We now know a lot more for planning future growth, but we kinda already jumped into some. But beyond that, there’s the other unknowns of future industry or potential growth that we’re going to see in this town. And so while treating it at the brewery might solve our issues right now, does that mean that every industry that comes in is going to have to be fully independent or are there ways to create more capacity to allow more in? And additionally, some of the smaller producers, Jeremy can speak to, it is some of the initial investment if you have to try and open a small brewery to treat all your wastewater or do anything like that, that’s sometimes insurmountable or might not be as attractive. And so it’s, like I was saying, larger planning to see what we can do as a whole.
Miller: Well, so Jeremy, on that note, I’m curious, if somebody came to you right now saying ‘I’d like to open my own new small brewery or distillery or cider house in Astoria right now’, what would you tell them?
Towsey-French: You know, I definitely want to encourage it because this sector is so positively impactful on the culture of our community. But I would have to be frank about everything that is involved. So much of it is really a question of financing and finding the right partnerships to make that work and we’ve been really fortunate in this industry to have a good history of a private/public partnership in coming up with creative solutions to things. But we’d certainly council a very regimented review of everything that you need to know to get things accomplished in a fair and reasonable way that’s effective for your business, but also sustainable for your community. I mean, you know, at the end of the day, we all live here. That’s the beauty of this. Our kids go to school together. We all have a vested interest in making this work. But I would definitely caution about making sure you’ve done your due diligence, so you understand the potential impact, both short and long term and costs.
Miller: Jeremy Towsey-French, David Kroening and Cindy Moore, thanks very much. Jeremy Towsey-French is the founder of Reveille Ciderworks. David Kroeningis one of the founders of Buoy Beer and Pilot House and Cindy Moore is the Assistant City Engineer for Astoria.
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