Dealing with the Drought

August drought conditions

August drought conditions

California’s drought is wearing on, and its effects on the beer-brewing industry have been filling the news. But far from the rather rabble-rousing headlines about the looming hops shortage, diminishing water supplies is a real threat. More than 400 craft breweries make their home in California, and they all need water.

The Weight of Water

Water makes up the vast majority of beer—it takes between four and seven gallons of water to make one gallon of beer—and water is needed to clean and sanitize brewing equipment.  Lowering water tables can also increase the water’s mineral content, altering its taste and, in turn, the taste of the beer. And although most of the barley for California’s beers is grown in the Pacific Northwest and Great Plains, the small hop and barley farmers in the state are also feeling the stress of the drought.

“If this drought continues for two, three more years, that could greatly impact the production and growth of our breweries.”- Tom McCormick, executive director of the California Craft Brewers Association.

Don Tubbs takes a wastewater sample

Don Tubbs takes a wastewater sample

Wise Use

Brewers are particularly aware of how vital clean water is to their craft, and most have long been doing their best to monitor its use wisely. Mendocino Brewing has always been a proponent of water conservation, and has been taking extra steps to save water by carefully monitoring brew equipment cleaning cycles and reducing landscape maintenance.  Mendo also manages to send most of their water back to the city water supply, as Ben Wilkinson explains:

Don collects the now-clean wastewater

Don collects the now-clean wastewater.

Ben: Our brewery does use a lot of water, but we also give a lot of water back.  We have a sophisticated waste water plant to treat all the liquids that goes down our drains.  In the end we give thousands of gallons a week back to the Ukiah’s water supply that is over 99% treated from all contaminants.  The city then treats that water so that it is 100% drinkable and safe to use.  In essence, we have a plan put in place to recycle all our water.  At least all the water that doesn’t get turned into beer!

(Click here for more on the Press Democrat story about breweries and wastewater treatment.)

How to Help

Most of us are well aware of different ways to save water, and have already been following good water conservation practices. With that in mind, I sought out a few more unusual ideas that can also help add some drops to the bucket.

  • Wash your fruits and vegetables in a pot of water instead of running the water down the drain.  Then add the water to your own plants or lawn.
  • Reuse the water used to steam vegetables or boil pasta. You can make soup, water the plants, flush the toilet…
  • Capture the water you run from the faucet while waiting for it to cool off or heat up. Or, keep a bottle or pitcher of water in the fridge.
  • Put a brick in your toilet tank to help reduce the amount of water used in each flush. (Not a particularly unusual idea, but so easy to do.)

What’s your plan?

How have you been working to conserve water? Any good tips to share? Let us know in the comments below!

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