An Unlikely Triumvirate

Sept. 18, 2017
WEFTEC events combine beer, music & water

About the author: Seth Brown is principal and founder of Storm and Stream Solutions LLC and a former Water Environment Federation storm water program and policy director. Brown can be reached at 571.551.6024.

As a way to unwind, I look for a good music venue that serves good beer and go see a band I have not seen in a long time. While indulging in this relaxation technique recently, it dawned on me that there are a lot of ties between the water sector, beer and music. Let me explain.

Ben Franklin once said, “Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyard, and which incorporates itself with the grapes to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.” Yes, I understand this is about wine, but it can easily be said of beer as well, and those who have started the “brewshed” concept understand this connection between water resources and associated products.

Brewsheds & Beer

The term “brewshed” was trademarked by the Brewshed Alliance in Washington state, which coined this term based on the premise that, “protected wildlands and waters lead to superior downstream beer.” The group lists five principles that highlights their approach:

  1. Recognize the connection between headwater protection and downstream water quality.
  2. Appreciate the connection between a watershed and the unique regional flavors of beer that result;
  3. Understand that water will transport pollutants in the watershed to downstream areas.
  4. Engage in potable water treatment using disinfectants as needed, knowing that these chemicals can reduce the quality of beer flavor.
  5. Prioritize protection of upstream areas due to the strong connection between natural waters and beer as a product, making it imperative to protect the quality of water in the watershed—as it is water that comprises 90% of beer.

Since its inception in 2013, the brewshed concept has spread to many states, such as Idaho and Oregon. The recognition of the link between watershed protection and downstream water quality in tangible ways is a benefit of the brewshed. Making these connections is critical in messaging on the importance of water in our daily lives.

A member of the Fountain Creek Brewshed Alliance, established in 2017 in the Colorado Springs, Colo., area, pointed out that, “we’re talking about something that people love, in this case beer, and educating them about an aspect of it that is relevant to their lives, like water quality.”

This view highlights the concept of “legitimacy,” which is an important sociological concept that can be applied to situations where new technologies are presented to a more general and non-technical audience. The three levels of social legitimacy are:

  1. Pragmatic. How do I personally benefit from the technology, and do I trust the organization that is leading the change?
  2. Moral. Does the organization have a good track record and appropriate infrastructure for the technological change?
  3. Cognitive. Does the technological change mesh with my life and cultural beliefs?

Friendly Competition

One application of social legitimization in the water sector is through beer to drive acceptance of potable water reuse—the reclaiming of wastewater effluent for drinking purposes. For the last few years, the Water Environment Federation’s Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC) has held a Reuse Beer Smackdown. Held again this year, the event is a friendly tasting competition between wastewater utilities that produce beer utilizing reclaimed wastewater effluent in the brewing process. Putting potable water reuse in the context of brewed beer provides an opportunity for those inside and outside the water sector to have a conversation about the acceptance, safety and utility of reclaimed wastewater, which is a step toward it being a legitimate alternative for communities.

Whether the source of the beer is from the brewshed or the wastewater treatment plant, these new approaches help the public better value the significance of water. The brewers—including Clean Water Services from Oregon; Pima County, Ariz.; and CDM Smith using water from Long Beach, Calif.—have refined the reuse beer smackdown this year under the name Pure Water Brewing Alliance, stressing that water should be judged by its quality, not its history.

The brewers will talk about their efforts, and their products will be available for sampling at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 3, at the WEFTEC Innovation Pavilion.

Music & Water

As the German poet and author Berthold Auerbach put it, “Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” But as the connection between water and beer, as well as beer and music, are clear, one might ask if there really is a connection between water and music. The answer is a definitive yes. Since 2013, this connection has been growing exponentially at WEFTEC. Jammin’ 4 Water is the handiwork of one man—David Kinnear—who established and has shepherded this event since its inception.

As Kinnear describes it, the event started out as a “jam session” of musicians and their friends, but now draws crowds of 700 or more. Best of all, it has raised nearly $130,000 for various water-centric charities and initiatives. Dozens of sponsors continue to support this great event. Sponsorships range from $500 at the silver level to $5,000 at the diamond level. This year, the event will be held at Park West at 322 W. Armitage Ave. in Chicago Saturday, Sept. 30, 6 p.m. to around 1 a.m. As a part-time musician and a participant in Jammin’ 4 Water since 2014, I encourage readers to go to and learn more—buy a few tickets and even consider a sponsorship. I know there will be beer at this event, so come out and enjoy both while knowing that the ties to water are strong in both cases.

This column included input from Barry Liner, director of the Water Eng. and Science Center at the Water Environment Federation. 

About the Author

Seth Brown

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