Download a PDF of this One Water Spotlight here.

Clean Water Services: Brewing Innovation

Talking about wastewater can leave a bad taste in your mouth. Drinking beer made from wastewater won’t.

What better way to start a conversation than over a beer? That’s the premise behind Pure Water Brew:a project of Clean Water Services, the water resources management utility for more than 560,000 residents of the Tualatin River Watershed, just west of Portland. About two years ago, Clean Water Services’ leadership spotted an opportunity to fast‐track the One Water discussion by linking it to Oregon’s legendary craft brewing movement.

One of the greatest barriers to discussion and awareness surrounding wastewater is perception. The “ick” factor is powerful and deeply rooted. It’s known for stopping important conversations before they start—not only among the general public, the media and public officials, but even within our own industry.  Pure Water Brew neutralizes the “ick” factor not through a dry reiteration of the basic facts of the water cycle, but by giving people the experience of drinking delicious craft beer made from water that was recently sewage.

Roy Rogers, Washignton County Commissioner and Clean Water Services Board Member said, ““If you want to gain the confidence of the public; if you want them to understand the value of water; if you want them to support the activities that we do, you have to be creative, you have to be innovative. I firmly believe that there isn’t a utility in this country who couldn’t do the same thing if they had the courage and the will to do it.”

“If you want to gain the confidence of the public; if you want them to understand the value of water; if you want them to support the activities that we do, you have to be creative.”

Roy Rogers, Washington County Commissioner and Clean Water Services Board Member

Clean Water Services operates Oregon’s largest water reuse program and cleaned water from the advanced facilities nearly meets drinking water standards.  This put Clean Water Services in a strong position to launch a pilot project called Pure Water Brew in 2014.  The concept was simple: Clean Water Services produced a batch of high purity water and provided it to local brewers to make beer.

With authorization from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Clean Water Services drew water from the Tualatin River, just below the outfall from one of their Advanced Wastewater Treatment Facilities. At that location, at that time of year, the river is 30 percent effluent. Working with consultants from Carollo Engineers, Clean Water Services subjected the water to ultrafiltration, reverse osmosis, and advanced oxidation.

Clean Water Services created a package of educational and outreach materials for Pure Water Brew, including videos, a press kit, beer labels, fact sheets, social media posts—and these popular t-shirts.

After producing the water, Clean Water Services turned to the members of the Oregon Brew Crew to produce the beer.  As one of the nation’s oldest associations of homebrewers, the Oregon Brew Crew was perfectly positioned to organize a competition, complete with score sheets, trained judges and medals. They dubbed it the “sustainable beer challenge,” and instructed participants to focus on lower-gravity varieties of beer that connoisseurs know can be made only from great water.

The competition attracted 13 homebrewers the first year and 25 the second. From an array of great beers that could hold their own in any bottle shop, the judges chose a Best in Show along with second, third and fourth place winners. Clean Water Services arranged to ship these extremely limited edition beers to the WateReuse Symposium, in New Orleans in 2014. Those who had the opportunity to taste Pure Water Brew found it a mind‐opening experience—and delicious.

“Most of the time their first response is kind of a big ‘ew’ factor. But they’re curious. They’re engaged. Being able to use something as fun as beer and brewing provides an educational opportunity, to say, ‘Hey, clean water is closer than you think.’”

Ted Assur, first place winner, Sustainable Beer Challenge 2014

After a successful 2014 pilot, Clean Water Services expanded the effort in 2015, this time starting with water directly from the outflow, rather than from the river. (The labels on the 2015 cans promised beer that was “100% EBV effluent by volume,” EBV is a pun on the important beer metric ABV, or alcohol by volume.) In addition to another appearance at the WateReuse Symposium, Pure Water Beer also traveled to WEFTEC.  There, the project reached even more industry leaders from around the world through a partnership – a mock wrestling match dubbed the “Sustainable Beer Smackdown” — with Milwaukee Municipal Sewerage District.

Jason Barker, Education Committee Chair of the Oregon Brew Crew said, “Judged tasting events are a big deal in the home brewing world…the involvement of BJCP-ranked judges is one of the steps we’ve taken to give this competition as much credibility and structure as possible.  We feel really proud that our members’ beers have traveled to New Orleans and Seattle and Chicago to bolster Oregon’s reputation as a brewing nirvana where innovators are solving environmental issues with sustainable business practices!”

Beer gets people talking—in the media, on blogs, and at industry events.

By serving this unique beer at major industry events, Clean Water Services creates an embodied and unforgettable experience for industry leaders of literally tasting what the future might hold. At the same time, this project reaches general publics around the world through a vigorous and effective communication strategy.  For example, in 2015 the Pure Water Brew story logged 500+ media hits, from the Wall Street Journal and NPR, to and Treatment Plant Operator magazine.

Clean Water Services’ ability to laugh along with the “sewage brewage” jokes is one key to the effectiveness of the Pure Water Brew message. The solid science behind the effort and Clean Water Services’ parallel involvement in serious conversations within the industry is critical.  Through innovation and partnership, Pure Water Brew is accelerating critical conversations about water reuse, not only close to Clean Water Services’ Oregon home, but around the country and the globe.