Municipal Water Leader
Interview

Turning Reuse Water Into Beer Pure Water Brew

W

ater reuse is a reliable and drought-resistant source of water for irrigation, in-stream flow augmentation, industrial uses, or even human consumption. However, whenever recycled water is used for food preparation or for drinking water supplies, consumers tend to get squeamish. They think more about the water’s past as wastewater than about its current level of purity. To address this issue, Clean Water Services, a public utility based outside Portland, Oregon, began to supply water to some of the most demanding water users they could find: craft brewers. In the Pure Water Brew competition, craft brewers vie to turn Clean Water Services’ recycled water into beer of the highest quality—both in purity and taste.

In this interview, Mark Jockers, government and public affairs director of Clean Water Services, speaks with Irrigation Leader Managing Editor Joshua Dill about the genesis of the Pure Water Brew competition and how it has shifted public perceptions of water reuse.

Joshua Dill: Please tell us about your background and how you came to be in your current position.

Mark Jockers: I am the government and public affairs director with Clean Water Services, a public utility in suburban Portland, Oregon. My background is actually in journalism. I have been working in the communication field for more than 30 years, 28 of them here at Clean Water Services, where I manage the district’s state and federal legislative agendas, as well as our communications, public involvement, research, outreach, and education programs.

Joshua Dill: How large is your service area and how many people does it serve?

Mark Jockers: We provide services to about 600,000 people in 12 cities in the urban unincorporated portion of Washington County, Oregon. Our service district covers about 115 square miles. We operate four wastewater treatment plants, including two advanced tertiary treatment plants. We clean about 70 million gallons of water a day before returning it to the Tualatin River. We manage stormwater in collaboration with our partner cities and manage flow in the Tualatin River itself. We own about a quarter of the stored water in this basin. We use that to augment flows in the river for water quality and fish habitat. We also work on regional water supply and security planning.

Joshua Dill: Tell us about how you came up with the Pure Water Brew competition.

Mark Jockers: Clean Water Services is currently the largest reuse provider in the state of Oregon, which is not saying a lot. Reuse is not as developed in Oregon as it is, for instance, in the Southwest. We provide more than 100 million gallons of reuse water annually, primarily to urban irrigators like golf courses, parks, and athletic fields. Around 2014, we were thinking about strategies for expanding our reuse program. We were meeting with our board-appointed advisory commission, and one of our committee members, Art Larrance, said, “If you really want to talk about water, you’ve got to make beer.” Art is the godfather of craft brewing in Oregon and is the cofounder of the Oregon Brewers Festival. This is a man who knows a lot about beer. He said, “Beer starts conversations.”

The ingredients of beer are limited to water, hops, yeast, and malt, and the most important ingredient in any beer is water. First, wanted to demonstrate our industry’s ability to clean water to make it fit for purpose. By doing that, we wanted to demystify the water purification process and the urban water cycle. At the end of the day, I’m not sure that the public always understands that we’re in a closed system. All water has been used before and all water will be used again. We’re just bringing that to light. Second, we wanted to showcase innovative water management and treatment technologies to inform the public about how we can create water fit for purpose. We also wanted to demonstrate the collaboration between local and state government and the private sector as well as bolster Oregon’s national reputation as a leader in innovative solutions to challenging environmental issues. And since I am in the storytelling business, I wanted to start a conversation about water and change the way we understood it.

At the time, some people thought was a crazy idea since there is an express prohibition against direct potable reuse in the state of Oregon. Actually, another purpose of this project was to work with a regulator to chart a pathway for expanded reuse opportunities. When we went to our regulator, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ), there was no clear permitting pathway to try this. We’re not very good at taking no for an answer, so we worked with ODEQ to secure a permit modification that allowed us, on a limited demonstration basis, to use reuse water to produce an alcoholic beverage for educational purposes. The permit had to approve not only the technology that we were using but also the standards by which we were measuring the effectiveness of that technology. We have a 4-step process: ultrafiltration through membranes, reverse osmosis, disinfection, and advanced oxidation. We measure the water produced against both the drinking water maximum containment levels and the National Water Research Institute’s list of pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and other contaminants of emerging concern. Our results demonstrated that we were producing perhaps the cleanest water on the planet. We provided all the water quality data to the brewers we were partnering with, and they referred to it as the table of zeros, because almost everything was nondetected.

Joshua Dill: How does the competition work?

Mark Jockers: Because of the complexity of the water quality regulations, drinking water regulations, and liquor control regulations, we decided to work with a group called the Oregon Brew Crew, one of the largest and oldest home- brewing associations in the nation. We provided the water, and they ran the competition. Currently, about 40 brewers participate in our competition each year. They’re interested because they’ve never brewed with water that’s this clean. They see it as a blank slate. They customize the water to match the style of beer they’re making. If they are making a Pilsner, they’ll try to match the water quality to that of the water you get in the Czech Republic. If they’re making a Kölsch, they’re trying to match a German water quality.

Those 40 brewers submit their beer to the Oregon Brew Crew. We partner with a variety of equipment manufacturers, engineering consultants, and other utilities that help support the competition. We can that beer, and then there’s a competition to select the best in show.

In 2016 we took the beer to Water Environment Federation’s Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC) for something called the Pure Water Brew Smackdown. It has since become an annual WEFTEC event, drawing competitors from across the country who have brewed beer with high-purity reuse water.

The goal of all this is to change people’s understanding of the urban water cycle and to start a conversation about reuse. One of the things that was most successful for us is that brewers are outstanding spokespeople for water quality. They are as smart as, if not smarter than, those of us who are deeply embedded in the water industry. Particularly in the Northwest, brewers have a tremendous level of credibility, particularly when it comes to the ingredients they use to craft beers.

Joshua Dill: How many years has the competition been going on now?

Mark Jockers: We did a pilot in 2014 and had our first full-scale competition in 2015. This will be our fifth year. Another brewery in Wisconsin was doing something similar in 2015. In 2016, I worked with  Florida New Water Brew project was spearheaded by Bart Weiss at Hillsborough County. This was one of the earliest full-scale reuse beer efforts, involving nearly 100 brewers from Special Hoperations in Tampa Bay. They brought their beer to WEFTEC the next year. In 2017, perhaps most remarkably, a group of water utilities and reuse providers in Arizona, together with the University of Arizona, put together a grant application to do a full-scale demonstration mobile high-purity water unit. They partnered with 26 commercial brewers in Arizona to do a similar project. The concept has even spread internationally: We produced a special beer last year that we shipped to Singapore International Water Week. The Singapore Public Utility Board provided water for a brewer in Singapore too. This has been done in Boise, Denver, Milwaukee, Orlando, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, Singapore, and elsewhere. It’s really taken off.

Joshua Dill: What are the benefits of using a competition as a public outreach strategy?

Mark Jockers: At the end of the day, we are demonstrating our state-of-the- art treatment technology. This is about telling that story, and beer is something that people are really interested in. It starts a conversation: “You’re doing what with effluent? How do you do that?” I’ve been in the communication business for close to 35 years, and I have never experienced anything like this. Back in 2015, ODEQ issued a notice that it was going to consider the permit change we had requested at about 9:15 in the morning. By 10:30, there was a TV camera in front of our building. Before the public hearing on the permit issuance, we were in over 100 media stories. Within that first year, we were in 400 stories worldwide, including in the Oregonian, National Public Radio, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and Food & Wine. We hired Dr. Paul Slovic at the University of Oregon as a risk communication expert, particularly in the water space, to do a media analysis about whether our messages got through. We found that our main messages succeeded in getting through: that all water is recycled water, that this is a sustainable approach, and that reuse technology is safe and reliable. The most important message that we delivered was our tagline: Judge water on its quality, not its history. Regulators and the public judge reuse water based on what it used to be— sewage. We want them to judge it on what it is now and its quality. We can demonstrate that the water we are producing is cleaner than the water from the tap in your home.

Joshua Dill: Were you able to measure the effects on the public opinion in your service area?

Mark Jockers: That’s always complicated. I think Dr. Slovic’s work demonstrated that we were able
to communicate our key messages. Trends in public acceptance tend to move more slowly. The local and national research we have been able to do suggests that people are aware of the project. When we had the public hearing, I think our regulator thought that we would hear a lot of concern about public health. What actually happened was that environmental and farming groups came in to support our project.

I think the more important measure is that as a result of this project, our regulator has agreed to open
up the State of Oregon’s reuse rules. Something similar happened in Arizona. As a direct outcome of the reuse project there, reuse rules are being updated. Reuse is less about technology—we have that—and more about public perception and acceptance.

In 2019, we are deploying something called a Pure Water Wagon, which is a mobile high-purity water treatment facility that we can use to produce this water at a much higher rate. It is a public education tool. It is a 32-foot-long standalone treatment facility that has swing- up doors like a food stand at a fair. People can go in and actually look at the technology and learn about how we use it.

Joshua Dill: What is your vision for the future?

Mark Jockers: My vision for the future is that people understand that there’s only one water. In our industry, we tend to balkanize everything into storm water, wastewater, gray water, drinking water, and irrigation water. We need to think of all water as water. My vision is that people come to understand that and accept reuse as a safe, reliable, and drought-resistant source of water that we should be taking advantage of.

Mark Jockers is the government and public affairs manager at Clean Water Services. For more about the Pure Water Brew competition, visit purewaterbrew.org.