Money & Business

The Associations Giving Wastewater a Second Life

By / May 12, 2015 (iStock/Thinkstock)

It may be one of the most difficult messaging challenges in the association world, but groups focused on both water purification and home brewing say that drinking filtered wastewater is a much better idea than it sounds.

Think your organization has a messaging problem? Try selling the public on filtered wastewater.

The water—heavily treated, highly purified, and safe to drink—nonetheless carries a stigma because of its original source material. But as warmer weather arrives and a long-running drought continues in the Western United States, reusing this natural resource is seen as a potential solution to water scarcity.

Not that that’s an easy sell. As The New York Times notes, some efforts to build water-reuse facilities have failed in the past due to criticism from activists, who mockingly called the purification efforts “toilet to tap.” (See? Messaging problem.)

But the tide is beginning to turn in favor of allowing the filtered liquid to be reintroduced into the general drinking supply. The trade group WateReuse has been trying to push general acceptance, in part by creating communication plans focused on building public relations momentum.

“We know that potable-reuse projects use safe and proven technology, but how a project sponsor engages the community is critical to the success of a project. These model communication plans are extremely important,” WateReuse Executive Director Melissa Meeker said in January.

From Water to Beer

The beverage that may eventually clinch wider acceptance of water reuse may not be water but beer.

No, really. In an experiment currently underway in Oregon, the state’s home brewers will create frosty suds out of treated sewage water. The goal? To show off the water’s perks.

“We need to be judging water by its quality, and not by its history,” Clean Water Services spokesman Mark Jockers told the Associated Press. “The water we’re producing is significantly cleaner than what the safe drinking standards are for water that comes out of taps across the United States.”

The water resources management utility is working with the Oregon Brew Crew, a home brewers association based in Portland, on the Pure Water Brew Challenge, for which Clean Water Services will release 300 gallons of highly purified water to 20 home brewers in the club.

The contest came about due to an unlikely connection: Oregon Brewers Festival founder Art Larrance is on Clean Water Services’ advisory board, so he pitched the idea of using the water to make beer, and soon enough, the ales were brewing. Contestants are challenged to emphasize the water in their creations, which Ted Assur—the winner of last year’s contest—considered an unusual focus. But Assur said the challenge highlighted the quality of the water he was working with to make his Vox Max Belgian brew.

“It is some of the best water I’ve ever made beer with,” Assur said. “I think the fact that it was really starting with absolutely nothing but water, and then having to add in the exact minerals I needed, I felt like that was a factor in producing a great beer.”

This year’s contest starts up in June.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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