science environment

Sewer Water Beer Wins Oregon Regulators' Approval

By Cassandra Profita (OPB)
April 16, 2015 1 a.m.
Finalists in the Clean Water Services homebrew competition.

Finalists in the Clean Water Services homebrew competition.

Amelia Templeton

A wastewater treatment operator wants to give its recycled sewer water to a group of home brewers so they can turn it into beer.

On Wednesday, state environmental regulators approved the idea.

The Oregon Environmental Quality Commission voted unanimously to allow the Hillsboro-based utility Clean Water Services to use recycled sewage for brewing beer.

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

The utility, 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.

The plan is to give the water to Oregon Brew Crew, which would make small batches of beer to be served at events – not sold at a brewery.

But even then the state of Oregon wouldn't allow anyone to drink it without approval from health and environmental regulators.

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, and this is the first time anyone has asked.

But no one's raising a pint of sewer water beer just yet. The utility still needs additional state approval for an amended recycled water reuse plan before the brews are cleared for drinking.

The Oregon Health Authority has already approved the utility's request, citing "the high quality of the treated water, additional microbial reduction in the brewing process, and a low health risk overall."

The Oregon Environmental Quality Commission echoed that point of view at its meeting in Portland.

staff report to the commission noted that using recycled water "will become increasingly important in the region as demands on our water resources increase in the future. … Growth in the Northwest is projected to occur at a higher rate over the next several decades as impacts from global climate change are predicted to be more severe in other regions, boosting immigration to the Northwest."

Clean Water Services already recycles water for irrigation in Oregon, but its new 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 utility wants to take the idea to the next level with beer made entirely from treated effluent.

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

For now, Jockers said, the utility'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.