A Noble Cause: Helping Breweries Reduce Water Use and Meet Wastewater Demands

In 2014, 206 million barrels of beer were shipped and sold in the United States—equivalent to more than 2.8 billion cases and 27.5 gallons of beer per consumer, according to the National Beer Wholesalers Association. Craft breweries produced 11 percent of that total. Craft breweries are rapidly growing in the United States. In 1983, there were 49 breweries in total in the United States, according to the Brewer’s Almanac. As of last year, the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau counted more than 4,500 active permitted breweries in the country.

All of that beer requires a lot of water. The industry average is roughly 7 barrels of water to produce 1 barrel of beer. This means that breweries have a high demand for potable water. It also means a lot of wastewater. Some of that water is lost to evaporation, but a great deal of it finds its way to publicly owned treatment works.

In drought-stricken California, some breweries have limited their growth due to conservation measures regulated by local water districts. Other breweries in the state have already or are considering moving production to another state where water supplies are not an issue; however, some breweries are concerned that moving will mean changes in mineral content in the supply water, which will change the quality of their beer.

No matter where they are, breweries see the rising cost of purchasing water and treating wastewater (or sewer fees) as incentive to reduce the amount of water used in production.  On a large scale, Anheuser-Busch InBev set a goal of reducing water usage to 3.25 barrels per barrel of beer made by the end 2011. According to one source, they exceeded that goal. MillerCoors is working toward achieving a 3.50:1 water-to-beer ratio by this year.

Woodard & Curran recently worked with a craft-brewing client to reduce their water-to-beer ratio. The brewer’s rapid growth led to an equally rapid increase in the amount of wastewater it produced, in turn causing wastewater disposal costs to skyrocket. Because of a combination of space restrictions due to its home in a historic manufacturing district and the way the brewer’s home city determined treatment costs, the brewer needed a creative solution that combined operational improvements and equipment upgrades. Changes to the brewery’s operating procedures brought down total water use ratio from 6.5 to 5.6. This reduction saved the client $60,000 per year. The operating changes also reduced the quantity of wastewater discharged overall.

According to WaterWorld, “70% of the fresh water intake of a brewery ends up as effluent.” Brewery effluent has a high biological oxygen demand (BOD) and total suspended solids (TSS), which leads municipalities to impose high surcharges—that is even if the local publically owned treatment works is equipped to accept the wastewater. This creates opportunities for pretreatment systems at breweries (if space and cost allows). In the case noted above, Woodard & Curran helped the client by adding a mixing tank to the wastewater system to dilute the brewing waste with CIP (clean-in-place) and rinse water, which reduced BOD and TSS concentrations before discharge to the city’s system.

Furthermore, Woodard & Curran helped the client establish a new sampling protocol for its wastewater discharge. The brewery’s wastewater changes throughout the day based on the operations cycle. Previously, wastewater was sampled only once per quarter, which meant that the brewery might be charged for contributing higher than average BOD and TSS wastewater to the system depending on when the sampling occurred. The new protocol occurs monthly using a 24-hour sampling period to record an accurate average. This corresponded to a reduced wastewater surcharge rate, saving the client an additional $45,000 annually.

Like breweries, other food and beverage manufacturers are looking for ways to reduce water use and improve wastewater solutions. Woodard & Curran has worked with some of the nation’s leading beverage companies to design and build innovative solutions. Read more about Woodard & Curran’s food and beverage services on our website.


Lloyd Snyder

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