Breweries Help Montana Towns Clean Their Water Supply, Saving Thousands Of Dollars

I always thought beer was just made of magic stuff that makes me put Mariah Carey's "Always Be My Baby" on the jukebox. Turns out, fermented barley does more than make me believe I have a six-octave range. In Havre, Montana, a water treatment facility is using brewery runoff to clean the town's water supply. The 9,700-person town has found a cost-saving, environmentally responsible solution that could be replicated in other towns.

The Havre Wastewater Treatment Facility takes in over 1.5 million gallons of water per day: water that's gone down sinks, toilets, showers, basically any drain whatsoever. The facility cleans this water, in part by adding a certain bacteria to it, then re-releases it back into the nearby Milk River. Until recently, the facility had problems with surplus nitrogen and phosphorus, which, when released into the river, would cause algae blooms and kill off aquatic life. Not good! In 2015, Havre spent $10 million on an upgrade to meet the EPA's new clean water standards. It wasn't enough.

Until: beer. Yellowstone Public Radio reports that three years ago, the facility teamed up with a local brewery, Triple Dog Brewing, to clean up the town's water. Triple Dog gives the treatment plant its spent barley. When that's added to water in the right amount and at the right time in the purification process, it feeds the cleaning bacteria, which lowers the levels of nitrogen and phosphorus. Success! That saved the town a potential seven-figure upgrade and $16,000 per year on alum, a chemical that would do the same thing the spent barley does.

A five-hour drive south, Bozeman, Montana did a similar thing at its water reclamation facility. In a two-month pilot program in 2019, the city found that the liquid waste from local breweries could also lower the nitrogen and phosphorus levels at the plant. However, the program ended after its pilot, as long-term implementation was too expensive to be worth it. They'll keep it in mind as an option for if and when tougher regulations are implemented.

Thank you, this has officially been my first day as a Science Blogger, a job for which AP Biology did not prepare me. I'm exhausted.