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Craft Brewers Worry About Tighter Water Supplies

Craft Brewers Worry About Tighter Water Supplies

John Schmid | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Even a hint of water scarcity is enough to drive a brewer to drink.

“Simply put, beer is 92% water,” said Wisconsin Commerce Secretary Richard Leinenkugel, who hails from one of the nation’s oldest breweries, the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co.

Water scarcity rapidly is becoming a concern for brewers as water supplies tighten in regions as diverse as Atlanta, southern California and Waukesha, making water an ever-more precious and pricey commodity.

Even around the Great Lakes, where water is deemed abundant, the newly ratified eight-state Great Lakes Compact is compelling a new regulatory environment and eventually is expected to usher in new conservation rules for water-intensive industries, experts on the compact say.

The link between beer and water conservation might not seem obvious to Joe Sixpack, but it was enough to fill a sobering two-day conference of craft brewers from around the country who gathered in Milwaukee Monday and Tuesday.

“The price of water is going up, there’s no doubt,” Leinenkugel said at the gathering at the Pilot House at the Discovery World museum on Milwaukee’s lakefront.

Leinenkugel said his great-great-grandfather was drawn to Chippewa Falls to start the family brewery in 1867 because of the proximity of local Big Eddy Springs.

Water access, meanwhile, is as important as tax levels as a business relocation issue, said Fred Strachan of the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in northern California. Sierra Nevada wants to expand with an East Coast subsidiary in order to distribute its brews nationally.

While it typically takes six pints of water to produce one pint of beer, brewers everywhere want to reduce that ratio, Strachan said at the conference.

Anticipating a new era of conservation regulations, Sierra Nevada is about to install flow meters at each stage of the filtration and brewing process throughout its flagship brewery in Chico. “We’re reacting to our own local water issues,” Strachan said.

True conservation trickles down to the bathrooms in pubs, said Tom Pape, the technical adviser to the Alliance for Water Efficiency.