The Current

Can Beer Force Obama to Clean Up the Clean Water Act?

What would summer be without access to clean water for swimming, fishing, surfing and paddling? It would probably be about as fun as summer without access to good beer.

beer clean water act obama

    Photo: Daniel D. Snyder/Faferek/

Beer is 90 percent water. (You might think that's true only of Coors Light or Miller 64, but in fact even your favorite New Belgium or Goose Island or Allagash brew is almost entirely aqua.) Once you account for the brewing process, it takes around five gallons of water to produce just one gallon of beer.

With that in mind, the Natural Resources Defense Council is taking a stand on water quality with its Brewers for Clean Water campaign. During the George W. Bush era, the Supreme Court made changes to the interpretation of the Clean Water Act, which weakened the law's power to curb pollution into drinking water sources. If common sense doesn't force the Obama Administration to reverse these changes, the NRDC has decided to use beer to drive the message home.

Since Obama is himself a home brewer (though it seems unlikely he has any time to ferment these days), the NRDC has corralled a group of 20 craft breweries—from big hitters such as Sierra Nevada and New Belgium to small guys like Michigan's Arcadia and Brooklyn's Kelso—who have made a pledge to make their operations more water-efficient and have signed a letter to the Obama Administration, urging it to pass guidance from the EPA that would put muscle back into the Clean Water Act.

At issue is the Court's interpretation of the law's reference to "navigable" waters, which companies are now using to lawfully discharge pollutants into non-navigable streams or wetlands—despite the flow from those headwaters into navigable waters (which are often also sources of drinking water).

Many of the brewers who co-signed the letter are based in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinois and rely on the Great Lakes for their source water. These lakes, which contain a fifth of the fresh water on Earth, are already suffering from record-low water levels, caused in part by higher evaporation rates due to warming waters.

Between climate change and the dangers of increased pollution, even small-scale brewers have much to be concerned about.

“Beer is an excellent megaphone, which is why we’re calling on our nation’s most visible home brewer, President Obama, to release this important guidance,” said Ian Hughes, Environmental and Safety Coordinator for Goose Island Beer Company.

It's not just the small guys who are making the connection between water quality and beer quality. The Association of German Brewers, which includes Anheuser-Busch InBev Deutschland, is seeking a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in Germany, based on concerns over the negative impact the drilling practice could have on the country's water supply.

For your consideration, the next time you're in the beer line, and on the way to the river, here's the full list of craft brewers who have pledged to reduce the amount of water used in their manufacturing process and have petitioned Obama to restore the Clean Water Act:

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