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Environment | Business | Water

Oregon Water Treatment Company Wants To Turn Sewer Water Into Beer

Finalists in the Clean Water Services homebrew competition.

Finalists in the Clean Water Services homebrew competition.

Amelia Templeton

Clean Water Services of Hillsboro has an advanced treatment process that can turn sewage into drinking water.

The company, which runs four wastewater treatment plants in the Portland metro area, wants to show off its “high-purity” system by turning recycled wastewater into beer.

But right now, the state of Oregon wouldn’t allow anyone to drink it.

Clean Water Services has asked the state for permission to give its recycled water to a group of home brewers. The Oregon Brew Crew would make small batches of beer to be served at events – not sold at a brewery.

The Oregon Health Authority has already approved the company’s request. But the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission will also have to sign off on it before anyone serves a beer made from recycled sewage.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is holding a public hearing on the proposal Feb. 12 in Portland. If it’s approved by the commission in April, Clean Water Services will still need additional state approvals for an amended Recycled Water Reuse Plan before the brews are cleared for drinking.

Avis Newell of DEQ says it’s the first time the state has considered allowing people to drink treated wastewater. Oregon rules allow recycled wastewater to be used for irrigation, industrial processes and groundwater recharge. They require additional approvals for human consumption to make sure all safety concerns are addressed.

Clean Water Services spokesman Mark Jockers said his company is the top provider of recycled water in Oregon. Its high-purity water treatment system turns sewage into water that meets or exceeds all drinking water standards.

The process includes three different treatment methods: ultra-filtration, which filters the water through very small pores; reverse osmosis, which passes the water through a membrane that blocks chemicals from passing through; and enhanced oxidation, which uses ultra-violet light and an oxidizing chemical to break down contaminants.

Last year, Clean Water Services organized a brewing competition with beer made with about 30 percent purified wastewater. Now, the company wants to take the idea to the next level with beer made entirely from treated effluent.

Jockers said idea is ultimately to expand the use of recycled water in Oregon, but also to change the way people think about wastewater.

“What we’re really trying to do here is start a conversation about the nature of water, and there’s no better way to start a conversation than over a beer,” he said.

For now, Jockers said, the company’s plan is just a demonstration project to show that it’s possible to treat water to very high standards. But he notes that water shortages have already forced other communities to get comfortable with drinking recycled water.

“When people think about it enough it makes sense, although the initial knee-jerk reaction might be ‘yuck,’” he said. “We want to start having this conversation now before we get into the drought situation that California and Texas and Australia have gotten into, so we can get the rules and safeguards in place that will allow greater use of this resource.”

wastewater recycling