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A toast to reuse: how purified water is brewing change in Colorado

CH2M Reuse Technology Director Larry Schimmoller illustrates how CH2M, who’s been an industry leader in potable reuse over the last 50 years, is spearheading an effort to brew change in its own backyard.

LED screen TVs, driverless cars, smartphones – the world has seen a wave of changes over the last half-century. One thing that hasn’t changed – where we get our water.

We are drinking the same water the dinosaurs did. There is no new water on Earth. Our global community cannot afford to use water once and dispose of it, especially as fresh water supplies grow scarcer and populations increase. In the U.S. alone, the total population has increased by more than 41 percent over the last 50 years, putting even greater demand on already limited resources, especially water supplies. That’s where the idea of potable reuse – or purifying wastewater effluent to create drinking water – comes in.

CH2M is at the forefront of driving sustainable reuse technologies and changing the conversation around recycled water. For the last half-century, we’ve led the industry in potable reuse. In fact, CH2M won the Stockholm Industry Water Award in 2015 for pioneering potable reuse and public acceptance.

The landmark work we pioneered with Denver Water on their potable reuse demonstration plant in the 1980s paved the way for the potable reuse operations being planned and executed today – including our recent partnering with three Metro-Denver brewing companies Lone Tree Brewing Company, Lost Highway Brewing Company and 105 West Brewing Company.

In September, we delivered 330 gallons of potable reuse water produced by a mobile advanced water treatment facility to three breweries destined to become Colorado’s first to produce craft beer from this unique source. The mobile facility, designed in part by CH2M in conjunction with Pima County, Arizona, and other participating entities* as part of the AZ Pure Water Brew Challenge, is one of just a few U.S. potable reuse pilots and the first to take potable reuse ‘on the road.’

Even before the water intended for craft brewing enters the mobile treatment facility, it has first received significant treatment and has met all drinking water standards. Once in the mobile facility, the water is purified through a five-step, state-of-the-art treatment process and is then subjected to strict testing by three different Arizona agencies (Pima County, Tucson Water and the University of Arizona) and one independent laboratory before judged safe for beer making.

In fact, that’s the case with all purified reuse water. Following treatment to extremely high standards, this type of water is continuously monitored to ensure safety before returning to drinking water taps.

Not only is potable reuse a safe solution, it’s also a future-proof one. As our state continues its record population growth, addressing water demand becomes ever more important. Experts are expecting our population to increase by another 54 percent by 2050 to 8.5 million people. That’s a lot of people to serve with clean, safe drinking water! Potable reuse offers the potential to reduce costs significantly by eliminating the need for dedicated conveyance systems, alleviating the constraints of suitable environmental buffers, providing water where it is most needed and producing a robust water supply for resilient cities.

By partnering with local breweries, we are demonstrating the applicability of potable reuse here in Colorado, helping build public support while eliminating negative stigmas, all by creating a product from the water that our residents already love – craft beer.

In 2016, the Brewer’s Association listed Colorado as home to 334 craft breweries, second only to California. The Brewer’s Association estimates that these 334 breweries produced 1.4-million barrels of beer last year.

Per the AZ Pure Water Brew Challenge, on average, it takes about five barrels of water to produce just one barrel of beer, which means that the breweries used approximately seven million barrels of water to make that 1.4-million barrels! And that’s not even the most water-intensive part of the process – the agriculture behind brewing is. Growing the barley and hops needed to make just one gallon of beer takes an estimated 590 gallons of water!

With water sources depleting and populations growing, it’s easy to see how making the switch to purified, recycled water in the brewing process could have a real impact on our state’s water future supply and overall sustainability efforts.

It’s our hope that through this effort utilities across the state will see the positive impacts that purified, recycled water can have in our local communities and the feasibility of allowing brewers to use this water in their beer-making process. And, ultimately, we hope our guests’ perceptions of water reuse change for the better as they enjoy great tasting beer at ReuseFest, our private Oktoberfest-themed educational event.

After the event on October 13, CH2M will continue leading the charge to advance sustainable water technology and communicate the science necessary to increase the resilience of our water supply through potable reuse and other innovative approaches. CH2M’s commitment to water reuse remains steadfast, and we look forward to working with clients and partners here in Colorado and around the globe as the journey toward a sustainable future continues.

*AZ Pure Water Brew Challenge Partners include: AquaTecture, Arizona Community Foundation, AZ Water, Carollo Engineers, CH2M, City of Flagstaff, City of Phoenix, Clean Water Services, Dow Water & Process Solutions, Garver, GE, Grundfos, Hach, HDR, Penske, Pima County Wastewater Reclamation, Sensorex, Town of Marana, TrojanUV, Tucson Water, ​​University of Arizona, Water Now Alliance, WateReuse Arizona, Wigen Water Technologies and Xylem.