Just when we thought craft beer couldn't get any zanier, we learn that Oregonians want to make it with treated wastewater.
Clean Water Services of Hillsboro says it has an advanced treatment process that can turn sewage into drinking water. The company, which runs four wastewater treatment plants in the Portland metro area, wants to show off its "high-purity" system by turning recycled wastewater into beer.
Clean Water Services has asked the state for permission to give its water to a group of home brewers. The Oregon Brew Crew would make small batches of beer to be served at events – not sold at a brewery.
But as of now, the state of Oregon doesn't technically allow anyone to drink wastewater, no matter how pure it is.
The Oregon Health Authority has approved the company's request for the beer project. But the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission will also have to sign off on it before anyone serves a beer made from recycled sewage.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is holding a public hearing on the proposal Feb. 12 in Portland. If it's approved by the commission in April, Clean Water Services will still need additional state approvals for an amended Recycled Water Reuse Plan before the brews are cleared for drinking.
Oregon rules allow recycled wastewater to be used for irrigation, industrial processes and groundwater recharge. They require additional approvals for human consumption to make sure all safety concerns are addressed. Avis Newell of DEQ says it's the first time the state has considered allowing people to drink treated wastewater.
Clean Water Services spokesman Mark Jockers said his company is the top provider of recycled water in Oregon. Its high-purity water treatment system turns sewage into water that meets or exceeds all drinking water standards.
The process includes three different treatment methods: ultra-filtration, which filters the water through very small pores; reverse osmosis, which passes the water through a membrane that blocks chemicals from passing through; and enhanced oxidation, which uses ultra-violet light and an oxidizing chemical to break down contaminants.
In September, Clean Water Services organized a brewing competition with beer made with about 30 percent purified wastewater. As The Oregonian reported, some craft brewers said they prefer the high-purity water because it lacks some of the minerals of tap water that they ordinarily have to remove to make beer.
Now, the company wants to take the idea to the next level with beer made entirely from treated effluent.
Jockers said the idea is ultimately to expand the use of recycled water in Oregon, but also to change the way people think about wastewater.
"What we're really trying to do here is start a conversation about the nature of water, and there's no better way to start a conversation than over a beer," he said.
For now, Jockers said, the company's plan is just a demonstration project to show that it's possible to treat water to very high standards. But he notes that water shortages have already forced other communities to get comfortable with drinking recycled water.
"When people think about it enough it makes sense, although the initial knee-jerk reaction might be 'yuck,'" he said. "We want to start having this conversation now before we get into the drought situation that California and Texas and Australia have gotten into, so we can get the rules and safeguards in place that will allow greater use of this resource."
A version of this story was originally published on the Oregon Public Broadcasting website.