By Michael Cairns
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Does spent yeast constitute a water quality issue for Oregon streams, and a financial burden on the state’s craft breweries? A September 2014 beer blog post described how two Austin, Texas breweries faced a fee of $5000 for “improper yeast disposal.” The piece made this writer want to do a little investigation to understand whether Oregon’s brewers are in danger of also getting slapped with hefty fines.
To understand why yeast would be considered a pollutant, a very brief science lesson is in order. Yeast, along with cleaning water, spent mash and hops that remain after the brewing process is complete, is usually discharged into municipal wastewater systems. Note that in Oregon most spent grains and hops, along with the yeast, are usually sold or given to farmers for animal feed — it’s organic and very nutritious. And yeast is ‘harvested’ for reuse in many breweries. These practices limit a lot of waste discharge, but not all of it. So where does the science come in? Well, the federal Clean Water Act of 1972 regulates the discharge of pollutants to the nation’s waterways. More specifically in this case, it’s the discharge of organic materials that may contribute to biological oxygen demand, which can stimulate the growth of algae in streams, lakes and oceans. This, in turn, can lead to a decrease in dissolved oxygen, which is bad for fish and other aquatic life. High concentrations of total suspended solids that could come from breweries pose another threat to waterways and wildlife. Acidity, expressed as pH, is an additional concern. OK, enough of the science lesson.
To determine whether Oregon breweries are in danger of being fined or required to pay special fees for their discharges, I did some digging and got some of my questions answered. First, Steve Schnurbusch of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) told me that there are no requirements specific to yeast effluents, nor to brewery wastewater discharges in general. He spoke of ‘loading,’ a measure of the total amounts of organic matter discharged to streams in relation to the size of any particular wastewater treatment plant from a brewery and other industrial sources. In other words, if a large brewery is located in a small community with a small treatment plant, then there could be a problem. Schnurbusch noted that the DEQ mainly regulates end-of-pipe discharges to receiving waters — for instance, from treatment plants, rather than discharges from breweries to municipal sewer systems. He suggested I should speak to city officials who operate those treatment plants.
This suggestion led me to the City of Salem, where Nitin Joshi of Salem Environmental Services reiterated some of what I had learned from the DEQ representative. The City of Salem does not have regulations specific to yeast, or even to breweries. Salem breweries are considered commercial, rather than industrial, users. Unless a particular plant, or brewery in our case, discharges more than 25,000 gallons per day, then there are no permits required. Finally, I decided to speak to a brewer to get that perspective.
Santiam Brewing’s head brewer, Jerome Goodrow, was kind enough to talk to me as he was in the process of cleaning tanks after a brew and discharging the rinse water. Like most breweries, the spent grain and hops are used for farm animal feed, and some of the yeast is harvested. He noted that the cleaning solution, or disinfectant, is quite acidic, although it’s neutralized by use of a caustic solution, thereby creating a final effluent that is nearly pH neutral. Goodrow reiterated that they do not discharge enough volume into the city’s sewer system to qualify as an industrial customer, nor do any of the other Salem breweries. There are no issues specific to yeast discharge at Santiam.
So, the bottom line based on my limited research: yeast discharge to sewer systems does not seem to be an issue in Oregon. I’m confident that Oregon’s craft brewers are attuned to the potential and are very conscientious about recycling and limiting their discharge of both wastewater and organic materials. Further investigation may find a very large brewery in a very small community where discharge could create problems with biological oxygen demand, total suspended solids or pH conditions in the receiving waters, but that doesn’t seem to be the case at this point.
Hopworks Urban Brewery in Southeast Portland recently signed onto the Brewers for Clean Water Pledge. In addition to many energy-saving and sustainable practices, the brewery has pervious pavers in the upper parking lot and the lower lot is sloped to catch rainwater in a retention pond. Photo by Tim LaBarge
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
“The single most important ingredient in craft beer is water,” Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy told brewers at the Craft Brewers Conference held in Portland in April. Not exactly a news flash. But, her comments about why they should support clean water were.
A little background: The 1972 Clean Water Act was diluted by Supreme Court rulings in 2001 and 2006 that seemed to exclude certain bodies of water. Therefore, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers drafted the Clean Water Rule to define the included water bodies. They released the rule in March 2014 for public comment, hoping for final adoption this summer.
“Before the new rule, up to 60 percent of American streams and millions of acres of wetlands were potentially overlooked by the Clean Water Act,” EPA officials said.
The Natural Resources Defense Council or NRDC, a nonprofit environmental organization, invited brewers to support the Clean Water Rule by taking the Clean Water Pledge.
Karen Hobbs, from the NRDC, said about 70 brewers have taken the pledge so far. By doing so, they sign on to comment letters to senators and the president and they are listed on the NRDC website as a partner to defend the Clean Water Act.
“What they do next is up to them,” said Hobbs. Many have improved efficiency at their facilities, engaged in watershed cleanups and improved water use. “Still,” Hobbs said, “we’re looking for ways to work better with the craft brewers because they are so embedded in their communities and so directly affected by local water. Many of them have amazing outreach in their communities.”
Like Bear Republic Brewing Company in Sonoma County, Calif. Peter Kruger, master brewer, said the brewery, established in 1996 in Healdsburg, Calif. broke ground on a new facility in Cloverdale, Calif. in 2006 with the idea there was plenty of water for the expansion. “We soon realized there wasn’t enough for the city, let alone our brewery.”
The city wanted to drill two new wells, but faced a five-year wait to secure loans from the United States Department of Agriculture. Bear Republic then fronted the city $475,000 in impact fees. Now they have two new wells with a million gallons of excess capacity. Peak demand is 1.8 million but the wells can pump 2.8 million.
Kruger said, “These were fees we planned on paying anyway. The amount we paid is what we estimated we needed to grow our brewery — basically we prepaid about eight years of fees,” he said.
With the money from Bear Republic, the city of about 8,000 people was able to fast track the wells. The brewery has introduced processes to conserve water in its drought-stressed region. “We run an incredibly low water ratio to beer, 3.5 gallons-to-1 gallon of beer. If you take out the water for office and irrigation use, it’s 3.1-to-1,” said Kruger.
The brewery has invested in technology to monitor water use and increase efficiency. They have spent several million dollars on an anaerobic digester that will treat wastewater.
In the first step, water runs through the digester and organic matter decomposes to methane, which will be burned for electricity. The exhaust gas preheats the processed water and will meet about half of their plant’s hot water needs. Then the water will run to the aerobic digester that will clean it up through a reverse-osmosis process for reuse in cleaning and wash downs. Kruger expects this to be up and running by January.
“Brewers are in a unique position to influence the world with the Clean Water Pledge,” he said.
Many leaders in the Brewers for Clean Water come from the water-challenged West.
Jenn Vervier, from New Belgium Brewing in Colorado, wrote a persuasive editorial in support of the Clean Water Rule in 2012 called “Clean Water is Good for Business and Beer.”
Closer to home, HUB recently signed the Clean Water Pledge and is working with the NRDC to develop some educational opportunities around the pledge.
Water conservation is a top priority at HUB. A recently installed custom cleaning-in-place skid allows reuse of the cleaning solution up to five times while maintaining water temperature and chemical effectiveness. A new centrifuge yields more beer per tank and uses less water for cleaning.
Outside, there are pervious pavers in the upper parking lot and the lower lot is sloped to catch water in a retention pond, allowing rainwater to become groundwater.
“Our heat exchange unit allows us to capture city water and use it to cool down our boiled wort, we then store it in our hot liquor tank for further use,” said HUB communications specialist Eric Steen. Both the brewery and kitchen focus on organic, sustainable practices.
For now, at least, the water news is good. The Clean Water Rule was officially adopted and formalized by President Barack Obama in May.
That won’t mean the end to challenges and legislative maneuvers, so supporting and/or taking the Clean Water Pledge will be more important than ever. You can find more information on the NRDC website: http://www.nrdc.org/water/brewers-for-clean-water/
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.