Legal Terrain

No Water, No Beer

August 10, 2023





The American Water Works Association’s “Value of Water” social media campaign, including its No Water No Beer slogan, provides a stark wake-up call about the dire importance of conserving and protecting our precious water resources – lest we create a dystopian future with no suds.

While this mantra remains as important as ever, a new initiative to brew lagers from treated wastewater is expanding the concept of what is possible in resource-stretched areas.

As highlighted in the recent New York Times article: Would You Drink Wastewater? What if It Was Beer?, Desert Monks Brewing, Co., an award-winning brewery in Gilbert, AZ, participated in a 2019 challenge to use purified recycled water from the Scottsdale Water municipal plant in its beer-making process. Impressed by the end product and doing its part to relieve some strain on water supply, Desert Monks Brewing now regularly features a post-treatment brew on its menu, including its current offering: Sonoran Mist, a “German-Style Helles Lager brewed with Scottsdale City Ultra Purified Water.”

As noted in the Times article, Scottsdale, which was already using post-treatment water for golf-course irrigation, laid the foundation for this malted miracle by securing a state permit to allow for the direct potable reuse of its treated wastewater. The shared vision of a regulated entity, its regulator, and a willing partner in the business community shows what ground-breaking heights can be achieved with good tech and a little imagination.

Here in Massachusetts, home of the revolutionary brewer-patriot Samuel Adams, contemporary brewmeisters are also advancing cutting-edge efforts at resource conservation. According to a Boston Globe article, Tree House Brewery deploys a treatment system designed by Cambrian Innovation to treat its “wastewater on site using a microbial system that promises to clean up the outflows while generating gas to heat the brewery.” Tree House does not go so far as Desert Monks Brewing to draft beer with the treated wastewater, but its closed-loop system uses recovered water for other on-site purposes, including tank rinsing and washing down equipment, which decreases its overall consumption of fresh drinking water.

While Tree House is doing its part to find ways to reduce its water consumption, we are still a long way from making beer from post-treatment waste in Massachusetts. According to Jennifer Pederson of the Massachusetts Water Works Association, any such effort would require changing the Massachusetts Regulations. The current regulations governing “reclaimed” water at 314 CMR 20.00 do not allow human consumption of post-treatment wastewater. According to, MassDEP has approved nearly a dozen projects for reclaimed water under 314 CMR 20.00, including using recycled water for toilets and facilities cooling at Gillette Stadium, watering at golf courses, and reuse at manufacturing and office facilities.

Massachusetts enjoys a more reliable water supply than many parts of the United States, so it does not need to advance reclaimed water use for human consumption, but several states are moving forward in this area. Colorado has regulations in place, Texas has a direct potable reuse plant in operation, and Florida and California have proposed regulations for human consumption of reclaimed water in the works.

The draft rules released in California in late July would allow reclaimed water to be placed back in the regular municipal water supply. While this effort will face public comments and hearings and is years away from becoming a reality, the early technical reviews are very favorable.

We should all raise a glass to these innovative conservation efforts.

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