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  • County-led effort finds new ways to brew up reclaimed water

    az pure waterIn the desert, water is everything. Tucson and Pima County wouldn’t be the thriving communities they are without the foresight of our ancestors to secure the water necessary to prosper in our arid climate. 

    So far, so good. But there will come a day, perhaps as early as in our lifetimes, in which the groundwater and surface water we’re currently consuming won’t be enough to sustain Arizona communities. We will need to find alternative sources and the most obvious is recycled water. 

    Every day, tens of millions of gallons of reclaimed wastewater, or effluent, pours out of our wastewater treatment plants. Some is sent to irrigate parks, golf courses and schools, and some is sent down the Santa Cruz River to recharge the aquifer. 

    We have the technology to turn that water into clean drinking water; so clean, in fact, that it has fewer salts and chemicals in it than bottled water that currently comes out of your tap. Turning wastewater into drinking water is relatively easy. Changing people’s attitudes toward that water is hard.

    For the past year, a consortium of Southern Arizona water users, led by Pima County, has been working on a program to start the process of changing minds.

    And they did it with beer. 

    beer“The goal of the AZ Pure Water Brew Challenge was to help people understand and trust the technology used to create purified recycled water as a possible renewable source for future drinking water,” said Jeff Prevatt, research and innovation leader for the Pima County Regional Wastewater Reclamation Department. “Our goal was to demonstrate that purified water is clean and safe. Looking back at the past year, I think we’ve done that.”

    Recycled Water: The solution to Arizona’s future water needs

    Arizona’s increasing demands on existing water supplies, which are largely dependent on groundwater, inspired Pima County to create the Southwest Water Campus facility to aid collaboration efforts among entities dedicated to water quality innovation. 

    The public and private partnerships formed at this facility have included participation from Pima County RWRD, the University of Arizona, Tucson Water, Marana Water, Carollo Engineers, CH2M, Clean Water Services, WateReuse, and others. Together, this team set out to craft a solution that would not only provide a sustainable water source for Arizona, but also worldwide. 

    To sell the concept, the Pima County Southwest Water Campus team, led by Prevatt, set its eyes on The New Arizona Prize: Water Innovation Challenge. This competition, organized by the Arizona Community Foundation (ACF) in partnership with Republic Media and the Morrison Institute for Public Policy, awarded the $250,000 prize to the Southwest Campus team to develop an innovative and inventive market-based, technological or entrepreneurial solution to advance the sustainability of water. 

    “We believed there were committed communities and groups of creative Arizonans and organizations with innovative ideas in various stages of development, that could be brought to fruition with the availability of proper funding and support,” said Steve Seleznow, ACF’s President and CEO.

    Inspired by Portland’s Clear Water Services 2014 concept of making beer from potable reuse, the Pima County Southwest Water Campus team’s AZ Pure Water Brew Challenge proposal involved building a mobile water treatment facility capable of producing high-quality water regardless of water source. 

    This facility traveled to various Arizona cities and towns purifying high-quality community wastewater produced by local water treatment facilities. The purified water was then delivered to microbreweries across the state to brew beer for a friendly competition, which culminated at the 32nd Annual WateReuse Symposium, in September.

    mobile purification facilityThe AZ Pure Water Brew Challenge demonstrated the safety and sustainability of potable reuse and started a conversation about water quality, water availability, and water sustainability.

    Meanwhile, it has helped gain public acceptance for potable reuse by introducing purified recycled water in a medium that helps people overcome the “yuck factor.”

    Additionally, winning the competition provided a means for the team to assist the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) in establishing the first potable reuse permit for ensuring the protection of public health. 

    Partners key to success of AZ Pure Water Brew Challenge

    To develop a replicable and scalable potable reuse solution statewide, Pima County’s Southwest Water Campus team enlisted the participation of many public and private partners, in addition to those entities already represented on the team. 

    “Our collaborations have been integral to the success of this campaign,” Prevatt said. “Even before we received the grant, we already had the support from many individuals who have remained crucial through the end.”

    The team recruited contributors to assist with the technical aspects involving the design, assembly, operation, and performance validation of the mobile advanced water treatment facility. Among the contributors were Dow Chemical, Agilent, and HACH. In addition, the team called on the support from the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild, AZ Water, WateReuse Arizona, ADEQ, the UA’s Cooperative Extension, and Pima County Communications to assist with the marketing, public outreach and regulatory aspects of potable reuse. 

    “We couldn’t have done it without the full-fledged support from our outstanding team of experts who helped us develop this idea into an award-winning entry,” Prevatt added. 

    Pima County wins Water Innovation Challenge; gets over $300K prize

    That November, the Southwest Water Campus team presented its entry video to convince the Water Innovation Challenge selection committee that its proposal to brew beer using recycled community wastewater would mark a cornerstone for Arizona’s future water needs. The team’s AZ Pure Water Brew Challenge entry was one of five finalists chosen from among 23 entries from public-and private-sector organizations from across the state. 

    Pima County winsThe decision was unanimous. The committee selected the AZ Pure Water Brew Challenge proposal for its uniqueness and innovation. 

    “Pima County’s Southwest Water Campus entry demonstrated exactly what all the partners hoped for with this challenge. Their collaborative, innovative plans hold great promise for the future of water in Pima County and statewide,” Seleznow said. “We are pleased to be able to provide this catalytic funding, visibility, and technical assistance to help make their vision of water sustainability a reality.”

    Watch the Arizona Community Foundation’s winning announcement here.

    In addition to the $250,000 grand prize, the team received $50,000 in technical assistance from the Water Now Alliance to advance the development and implementation of its project. The team also won the Audience Choice award valued at $2,500. The Southwest Water Campus team received a total prize of $302,500. 

    “I am thrilled and honored that our team has been able to come together with this innovative idea to help change public perception and tackle Arizona's future water needs,” Prevatt said. 

    Work gets underway for the AZ Pure Water Brew Challenge

    With funding secured, the Southwest Water Campus team put all hands on deck to turn this idea into reality. Priority was given to creating the mobile purification facility, which would drive the entire campaign, and working with ADEQ to obtain a special reuse permit for the water and beer tastings. For the truck, the team purchased a shipping container and ordered the water treatment equipment needed to convert treated effluent into delicious, purified water.

    Thanks to collaboration from project contributors and supporters, the team didn’t spend all of its award money purchasing equipment for the truck or branding the campaign. Sponsors, such as HACH, Grundfos, Sensorex, Trojan UV and GE donated most of the treatment devices and the County created the brand in-house, including the design for the truck.

    In May 2017, the AZ Pure Water Brew Challenge debuted its mobile purification facility at the AZ Water Association’s 90th Annual Conference and Exhibition. During this event, the Southwest Water Campus team recruited more than 50 volunteers to help the team communicate the benefits and overall safety of potable reuse during its community events. 

    “We wouldn’t have been able to do these events without them – they were integral,” said Jessica Dery, Southwest Water Campus member from the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension and volunteer recruiter for the campaign. “Coming from the water industry, all our volunteers were excited and enthusiastic and that translated to the public.”

    az pure water brewDuring community events, volunteers were responsible for drawing people to the mobile purification truck, educating them about the project, encouraging them to tour the facility, and ultimately trying the beer or water. 

    “As someone who was heavily involved in the community events, I can say we had nothing but tremendous support from the general public,” said John Kmiec, Southwest Water Campus team member and director at Marana Water. “It was very recharging to see how much the community embraced this concept.”

    Throughout these community events, the team also surveyed close to 1,800 people to gauge their perceptions on recycled water before learning about it and after completing the tour. The team will have the results from these surveys sometime in November. 

    Brewers onboard and ready to compete in AZ Pure Water Brew Challenge 

    More than two dozen Arizona brewers from Tucson, Yuma, Prescott, Flagstaff, Sedona, and the Phoenix area participated the AZ Pure Water Brew Challenge. 

    “Having the AZ Craft Brewers Guild on board helped prove we were legitimate,” said Danielle McPherson, Water Now Alliance program manager whose primary job involved organizing the events and recruiting the brewers. “Once I got my foot in the door, that was it. It didn’t take much to convince them.”

    While bragging rights might have been a reason for brewers to sign up, a majority joined because they understood the importance of the campaign’s overarching message. 

    “Brewing is a water intensive endeavor and in the desert, that fact becomes more important than anywhere else. Anything we can do to help others see the value of water is of interest to us,” said John Adkisson, owner of Iron John’s Brewing Company in Tucson and the first to sign up for the competition.

    The opportunity to help find solutions to the state’s water issues motivated others to join as well.

    “This initiative definitely peaked our interest,” said Chase Saraiva, head brewer at Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company. “The project was really in line with our practices. We’re involved in a lot of sustainability and conservation projects in the state and this just fit right in.”

    To prepare for this competition, the Southwest Water Campus team treated more than 80,000 gallons of recycled community wastewater and traveled more than 2,800 miles educating thousands of Arizonans on the technology used to create recycled water. 

    The water underwent a five-step purification process that removed all contaminants, including pharmaceuticals, viruses, bacteria, and organic compounds, leaving only pure water that satisfied federal and state safe drinking water standards.

    (Story continues after image below)
    Water Process Chart

    “A lot of the brewers were definitely excited that the water was so pure,” McPherson said.

    For Dragoon Brewing Company, the high-quality water was key to the Bohemian-style Pilsner they wanted to craft for the competition. 

    “It’s a classic style that can only be brewed with very soft, high-quality water. In Tucson, we have great water quality, but it comes with a lot of hardness and mineral content, which makes it unsuitable for a delicate, true-to-style Bohemian Pils,” said Eric Greene, Dragoon’s head brewer. “Because there are so few ingredients, the quality of each is of critical importance.”
    The AZ Pure Water Brew Challenge enlisted the participation from 26 Arizona brewers:
    Brewers had six weeks to craft their beers for judging.

    “The involvement of so many local craft brewers has been amazing and helps to make the entire experience even more delicious,” Prevatt said. 

    Leading up to judging, many of the brewers released their craft beers for public tasting. For many, including Arizona Wilderness, the results were outstanding.

    “The consumer really enjoyed it. It sold out within a week,” Saraiva said. “The IPA is the king of craft beers at the moment. Brewing something that the consumer would want to try really helped us break down those barriers.”

    While great tasting beer helped people get passed the “ick” factor, Saraiva credits the AZ Pure Water Brew Challenge team for the prep work that went into helping them to sell the water purity. 

    “The team took the time to educate us and provided us ample resources to educate others and show them it was a safe.”

    AZ Pure Water Brew Challenge winners announced

    On Sept. 9, a group of sanctioned professional judges from the Beer Judge Certification Program, along with a group of guest judges, rated the entries in an anonymous judging event held at Mr. Beer in Tucson. The winner was announced Sept. 10 during the national WateReuse Conference. 

    Dragoon’s Clear Water Pilsner was crowned the winning brew and Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company’s Pure Water Double IPA the runner up. In addition, WateReuse conference attendees selected Crooked Tooth Brewing Company’s Tamarind Sour Brown as the fan favorite. 

    The winner and runner up each received a piece of equipment, donated by HACH, to maximize quality control within their brewing process. Dragoon received a HACH orbisphere valued at $12,000 and Arizona Wilderness took home a HACH multimeter valued at $3,000. 

    “We couldn't be happier having partnered with the dedicated craft brewers across the state who are just as passionate about water as we are,” said Channah Rock, Southwest Water Campus team member and microbiology professor for the University of Arizona. “Their participation in the project is the reason that we are successful today in our efforts to educate the public on the value of water recycling and purification.”

    The conference attracted about 400 water professionals who all saw this campaign as a great tool for water reuse and education. Among them was Arizona Community Foundation’s Project Manager - Special Projects, Laurie Vesco, who made some remarks about their investment.

    AZ Pure Water“We are thrilled with the outcome,” Vesco said. “The collaboration from the team, the collaboration with the community. We couldn’t have asked for better results.”

    Next Steps for AZ Pure Water 

    “The results of this project will help ADEQ develop a pathway for potable reuse for cities in need across Arizona,” Rock said.

    While the goal for this campaign was to change the public’s perception on potable reuse, the end purpose was to provide ADEQ with the data necessary to implement potable reuse in Arizona. 

    Crooked Tooth patron, Pily Spillman, who didn't know she was drinking beer made from recycled water was pleasantly surprised and encouraged to know that this type of water innovation was being pursued locally. 

    "I think it's genius," said Spillman. "I'd be more likely to go buy it again because now I know it's something that can help Tucson. I'm not a beer drinker, but the flavor is amazing."

    Across the board, others expressed the same sentiments about recycled water.

    “This campaign has shown that you can engage people in conversation about potable reuse and have public positive engagement. It’s been huge,” McPherson said.

    With help from the Southwest Water Campus team, ADEQ is now in the process of writing a guidance document for the upcoming Legislative Session to lift the prohibition on potable reuse.

    “We could be looking at having approved potable reuse guidelines within the next year,” Kmiec said. 

    In addition to rulemaking, the AZ Pure Water Brew Challenge has set a precedent for future Water Innovation Challenges. The campaign relied heavily on collaboration from all parties, and that’s something that didn’t go unnoticed by Arizona Community Foundation officials.

    pure water“It was impressive to see the number of organizations that came together to solve a problem,” said Lisa Dancsok, chief brand and impact officer with ACF. “We found it to be a very successful project and initiative that has helped educate people and help them understand that water can be recycled and reused.”

    Dancsok said the Foundation is looking to make collaboration a required component for future Water Innovation Challenge entries.

    Although the competition has ended, the AZ Pure Water Brew Challenge will continue to tour the state through the end of the year. In addition, brewers will continue to sell their crafted beers until they run out.

    Dragoon plans to release its prize-winning brew at noon on Saturday, Sept. 16 alongside the AZ Pure Water Brew Challenge mobile water purification truck, which will be available for public tours from 3–7 p.m.  

    As for the future of the mobile purification truck, Prevatt said those discussions are underway. The team has received numerous requests for purchase, lease, or use of the facility, which has proven capable of purifying all types of water, but will keep it at the Southwest Water Campus for educational outreach purposes for now.  

    To learn more about the AZ Pure Water Brew Challenge, visit
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