Water, Water… Everywhere?

For those of us from the Midwest, we take great pride in the Great Lakes. Not only do we use them for enjoyment and economical purposes, but it is where many people get their drinking water. Every county within the Great Lakes Basin is permitted to take water, water from these areas flows back into the lakes naturally. The Great Lakes Water Compact is a group made up of the eight states and two Canadian Providences that border the lakes. This group upholds the Compact and makes decisions as a singular unit. This Compact was signed into law in October 2008.

The City of Waukesha is located just outside the basin in Waukesha county Wisconsin. This is the first request for use of the Great Lakes’ water from a community outside the basin. Waukesha is facing a uranium problem in their wells and is under a public mandate to find a new safe source of water before 2018. With the Mississippi River too far way and their aquifer contaminated Waukesha turned to the Great Lakes as their only option.

Last summer, public meetings were held to gain general opinion and answer questions. Several environmental groups in Wisconsin have urged this request to be denied. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has to approve the plan first before it is sent to the other ten officials for their approval. This group of ten will decide as a whole; one vote against this request means it will not go through.

What does this mean for the rest of us? If the City of Waukesha is granted access to Lake Michigan’s water, what’s to stop other counties further from the basin to ask for Great Lakes’ water? Fresh water is becoming scarce and it is a problem that the rising generation will need to solve. Levels in the Great Lakes are already falling each year, allowing a larger population access to the water will make this problem worse.

My Midwestern pride is not what drives my vote against this request, but my foresight into the future and my passion to protect the environment. People are not the only creatures that rely on the Great Lakes; various numbers of fish, plants and mammals would not survive without this freshwater system. Economically, fishing, recreational and shipping boats would not exist without there physically being water.

Similar to today’s dependency on oil, the dependency of tomorrow will be for fresh water. We’re already seeing it as residence in West Virginia went a week without water in January after their water was contaminated keeping them from even bathing in it. What would you do without any running water in your county for a week? In the West, the Colorado River no longer reaches the Gulf of California. This year will be the first year that the amount of water entering Lake Mead will be reduced. Everyone, the wealthy and less fortunate, will need to cut down on water usage.

While the issue of water is taunting and there is a way to stay afloat. We can all take shorter showers and maybe shower less often (better for your skin anyway), turn off water when brushing your teeth, use rainwater to water plants inside and outside, to name a few. Fresh water is a luxury; in the United States we’re lucky that most of us take it for granted. The battle for water will continue in Waukesha but it’s a war that is just starting worldwide.

The Sustainable Side of Beer

The thing about beer is that even if you drink beer brewed in or near your town and you know their getting their hops from in state, the brewing process is not very sustainable. It takes about five barrels of water to produce one barrel of beer according to MillerCoors, who by the way are working on reducing their water use so that it only takes three barrels to produce one barrel of beer. In addition to the water use, the excess grain from brewing often goes to waste. This is all before the transportation involved to bring the hops and barley to the brewery and then the beer to bars and stores to be sold.

So what do we do, stop drinking beer and switch over to rice based alcohols? No, of course not, we figure out how to make beer sustainably. There are lots of breweries across the country doing some very cool things to make sure that they are using fewer resources to produce their beer and that their waste is being used in an efficient way.

New Belgium out of Fort Collins, Colorado where their brewery is 100% wind powered are also dedicated to reducing the amount of water used to brew their beer. Their goal for 2015 was to produce a little less than a barrel of beer (.85 barrels) with three barrels of water. That would be a huge improvement from the five it takes to produce beer now. They have also done lots of research to figure out the best way to package their beer. New Belgium’s results show that any container that can be recycled is best, glass bottles or cans – of course that means their drinkers have to recycle ☺.

During the brewing process, one of the first steps is called “Mashing” or “Mash”. This involves mashing or crushing the kernels of barley and hops so that all the nutrients and sugars are extracted and moved on to the next step. During this “Mashing” step, the leftover of the grains are called spent grain. Because all the nutrients have been taken out of the grain for the beer, spent grain is often seen as waste. In order to reduce their waste and find a purpose for the spent grain, breweries are working with farmers and bakeries.

Standing Stone Brewing Company in Ashland, Oregon has their own farm and found that they could use the spent grain to feed animals such as chickens. They are also thinking longer term by using the spent grain as a type of fertilizer in their “grain beds” that will be used to produce fruits and vegetables for the brewery in a few years.

On the other side of the country in Walland, Tennessee the Brewery at Blackberry Farm uses their spent grain to feed all the animals on the farm including chickens, pigs, llamas and sheep. This brewery is part of a larger resort and so the animals on the farm help produce fresh eggs, wool and meat for visitors of the resort. This system that Brewery at Blackberry Farm is using is a great sustainable system that not only recycles and uses all their spent grain but then it produces high quality local products.

Other breweries are donating their spent grain to farms in their areas to use for feed, some breweries found bakeries that can grind the spent grain further and use it as a flour in some of their baking. The exciting part is that finding purposes for spent grain is a recent development in brewing and it seems like it is catching on.

Maybe you’ve heard of or tried Alaskan Brewing Company (ABC) beer out of Juneau, Alaska – I highly recommend the Alaskan Amber if you like dark beers, it’s the smoothest beer you’ll ever try- they have developed the technology to power their brewery from spent grain. ABC learned early on that because of their remote location they could ship the spent grain to the Pacific Northwest for use at farms, which they have done for about 20 years, or find another use for it. In 2012 they introduced a boiler that runs on spent grain. With the introduction of this one of a kind boiler they estimate that they can reduce their oil use by over 65%. Since it takes more oil to distribute their beer, reducing the oil used in the brewing process helps their overall carbon footprint.

All these developments in improving beer brewing show that there really are unlimited possibilities in how to reduce carbon footprints and add sustainability into any business plan. Drinking beer is not something most of us probably plan on giving up, for sustainable reasons at least, but this shows that we don’t have to change our habits. We just need to think about it in a different way, a more creative way, so that we can continue doing what we love without damaging our planet or resources.