Beer, Water & the Drought – Part I

This is the first in a two part series on how the drought may impact the California craft brewing industry from the Executive Director of the California Craft Brewers Association, Tom McCormick.

In summer 2014, after three years of below average precipitation here in the Golden State, very few craft breweries felt the impact of the drought. While some breweries had to adapt to a change in water chemistry after water agencies shifted to new sources of water, very few CCBA brewery members had mandatory restrictions placed on their water consumption.

This year, after yet another dry winter season, California’s breweries face a different situation.

In April 2015, Governor Jerry Brown issued an unprecedented executive order mandating that urban water use be cut by 25 percent across the state. The Department of Water Resources (DWR) developed a framework to implement this mandate, including imposing mandatory cutbacks on all urban water districts ranging from 6 percent to 36 percent per district.

The specific cutback for each district is based on how much water that district used per person in 2013. Districts with a high per capita water use in 2013 were given a larger cutback (up to 36 percent) compared to the districts with low per capita use. The DWR left it to individual water agencies to figure out how to meet the cutback requirements, which means water agencies have the choice of issuing mandatory restrictions, controlling consumption by raising rates, or applying other methods to implement the cutbacks. Water agencies also have the ability to impose different restrictions on different types of water users (industry, recreational, residential, etc.).

This means that California’s craft breweries will have an opportunity to work with their local water agencies to discuss the restrictions and work together to help support our state through this ongoing drought. CCBA members will continue to implement innovative and effective ways to work with their local water agencies to use water more efficiently.

While water is one of beer’s primary ingredients, actual water use by craft breweries in California ranges dramatically depending on size and other factors. The current statewide average is unknown, but spans from 3.5 to 6 gallons of water for every gallon of beer produced. Most water used in the production of beer is for cleaning and sanitation. The other ingredients used in the production of beer, including hops and barley, are imported from other states. This use of out-of-state ingredients reduces the amount of agricultural pressure the craft brewing process has on California’s water problem.

Overall, the industry is not a big water user in the state. According to the author of a recent Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) report, Dr. Jeffrey Mount, the craft beer industry has “little to no impact on California’s drought.”

For the past two decades, our members have consistently sought out and invested in new ways to reduce the amount of water used in the beer brewing process and are leading the state in adopting water conservation technology. A few recent examples include:

  • Using the latest technology, Ballast Point (San Diego) has reduced its water use by more than 24 percent.
  • Stone Brewing Company (San Diego) recycles more than 62 percent of its water daily by reducing the need for fresh water in its brewing and production process.
  • Since 2007, Sierra Nevada (Chico) has reduced water consumption per barrel of beer produced by 25 percent.
  • Anderson Valley Brewing (Booneville) has been awarded the California Waste Reduction Awards Program (WRAP) multiple times and has its own waste water treatment plant. The brewery uses all its wastewater to irrigate the surrounding 28 acres of brewery grounds.
  • Bear Republic Brewing (Cloverdale) is seeking permits to install a Membrane Bioreactor (MBR) which will allow for a minimum of 50% water reuse at the brewery resulting in an estimated 8.7 million gallon savings in water use.

CCBA’s brewery members have long cared about California’s natural resources and the industry has been a leader in sustainability, including water conservation and water re-use for many years prior to California’s current water crisis. CCBA brewery members remain committed to developing and implementing the most current technologies in water conservation and re-use and are passionate about being good stewards of our Golden State.