Oregon Brewers to Make Beer Out of Sewer Water

By May Wilkerson 04/30/15

Clean Water Services in Oregon wants to do its part in saving water during the drought.

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Just add hops. Shutterstock

Could “toilet beer,” or as it's affectionately called, “sewage brewage,” help solve the water crisis?

In a lesson in sustainability, Clean Water Services, which runs four wastewater treatment plants in the Portland suburbs, has asked local home brewers to make “great-tasting” beer out of purified sewer water. The “Pure Water Brew Challenge” is meant to raise awareness about how, despite the ick factor, this abundant resource can be safely reused thanks to advanced water-filtration systems.

“We need to be judging water by its quality, and not by its history,” said Clean Water Services spokesman Mark Jockers. “The water we’re producing is significantly cleaner than what the safe drinking standards are for water that comes out of taps across the United States.”

The challenge will begin in June, when the utility will release 300 gallons of highly purified water to about 20 members of the state’s oldest home-brewing club, the Oregon Brew Crew. Participants will then compete to make the best-tasting beer using the water, as well as standard ingredients, hops, barley, and yeast. The victor and runners up will win $100 and $50 respectively and have their concoctions presented at an international water conference in Chicago.

State regulators have approved the water as safe to drink, but the final products won’t be sold at bars or stores. At least, not for now.

Though some might find the whole concept repulsive, treating toilet water and reusing it for human consumption is actually quite common. Places across the globe, from Singapore to parts of California and Texas, have treated waste water and re-added it to the regular drinking supply.

In fact, all water is essentially reused, since treated wastewater from one town is released into a river, eventually ending up in the next town’s drinking supply. “We all live downstream from someone,” said Zachary Dorsey of the WateReuse Association, a nonprofit that advocates for water reuse.

Given water shortages on the West Coast and around the world, sewage water purification systems could soon become imperative. Though rainy Portland hasn’t experienced a water shortage yet, Clean Water Services says population growth and climate change could eventually threaten their water supply. Their plan is to change Oregon water reuse regulations before there’s a crisis like the one currently facing California.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.