Sep 19, 2014 - 2:15pm

Federal Water Rule Would Mean a Less Happy 'Happy Hour'

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Beer ingredient suppliers are hopping mad over water regulations.
Beer ingredient suppliers are hopping mad over water regulations.

Fresh off their battle with the FDA over the use of spent grains in animal feed, America’s beer ingredient suppliers are hopping mad over a proposal to extend federal regulatory authority over bodies of water.

The Hill’s Tim Devaney has more:

Dozens of small craft brewers such as Sierra Nevada and New Belgium are rallying behind the EPA’s proposed Waters of the U.S. rule, arguing it will help ensure that they have clean water for their products.

But farmers who supply beer ingredients such as barley, wheat, and hops, say the rule has the potential to massively cut production on their lands, raising beer prices in the process.

The divide has put trade groups for the beer industry in a tough spot, caught between what one industry lobbyist described as “competing interests.”

“Obviously, water is a major element of beer, but barley and hops are pretty darn important as well,” said Bob Pease, CEO of the Brewers Association, which represents thousands of small craft brewers and some farmers.

The proposed regulation would cover wetlands, intermittent streams, “ephemeral” steams—those that exist for only a short time after a rain or snowmelt—and man-made bodies of water like ditches, ponds, and canals. Agency maps attained by the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology show individual states facing upwards of 100,000 additional stream miles that could be regulated under the proposed regulation. (Those maps, by the way, were only handed over after multiple requests by the committee and were never made public by the agency, Feedstuffs Newspaper reports.)

Further regulation on the country’s natural water supplies couldn’t come at a worse time for America’s beer makers or their suppliers, as the Associated Press explains:

Some of the largest brewers in the U.S. are trying to reduce their water-to-beer ratio as drought and wildfire threaten the watersheds where they draw billions of gallons every year.

No independent group tracks beer-makers’ water usage, but MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch both say they have made reductions. MillerCoors released a sustainability report Wednesday that shows it has cut its water use by 9.2 per cent from 2012…

MillerCoors’ massive Fort Worth brewery taps 770 million gallons a year from the Trinity River Basin, where tensions among private landowners, municipalities and other stakeholders are rising amid a persistent drought.

The AP also points out: "The number of brewers in the U.S. has expanded to its highest level since the 1870s, mostly because of an explosion of craft breweries. Without the technology or scale of big brewers, craft brewers use on average as much as twice the amount of water for every barrel of beer."

While the brewing industry remains split on the proposal, farmers and ranchers have come out unified firmly against it, according to The Hill.

The Farm Bureau has come out against the rule, because it fears it could be expensive for many farmers to comply with.

Farmers also say the rule is unnecessary. 

“The American farmer is more concerned about the quality of water on his farm than probably even the EPA,” said Bernard Peterson, who owns a Kentucky farm that supplies corn and wheat to bourbon distilleries.

Many corn farmers also supply beer companies like Anheuser-Busch, which makes Budweiser. 

Barley farmers and hops growers are also concerned about the EPA’s waters rule.

Doyle Lentz, president of the National Barley Growers Association, owns a farm in North Dakota that sends most of its barley to Anheuser-Busch.

But under the EPA’s proposed waters rule, Lentz is concerned the agency could stop him from farming as much has 80 percent of his lands, because at some times of the year they are covered in water.

“We, frankly, just don’t trust the EPA to manage the water on our farms,” Lentz said.

Brett Blankenship, vice president of the National Association of Wheat Growers, shares the same concerns. Many brewers use wheat to make beers like Hefeweizen.

“We all want clean water and we all do our part to make sure the waters are improving, but we cannot afford EPA overreach,” Blankenship said.

It all adds up to one big regulatory hangover.

Read our previous posts on the proposed WOTUS rule here, here and here

About the Author

About the Author

Sheryll Poe is a former senior writer at the U.S. Chamber, who covered public policies affecting businesses including the three "T's" - transportation, trade and taxes.