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OP-ED: Trouble brewing

Summertime calls for a beer, and beer calls for clean water

As the head of the New Jersey Brewers Association, you can bet I like a fresh, clean beer on a hot summer day.

Unfortunately, the clean water that goes into craft beer in our region is under threat from pollution. Our industry is concerned, and you should be too, especially if you own or operate a business, because all businesses – like all people – benefit from clean water to drink, use in manufacturing and for recreation.


Yes, the region’s water supply has come a long way from 1940, when the Interstate Commission on the Delaware River Basin called part of the Delaware River “one of the most grossly polluted areas in the United States.” But threats remain and need attention, particularly urban runoff, the most serious threat to clean water in New Jersey.

During rainstorms, water that falls on roofs, roads, sidewalks, and other impervious surfaces, goes into drains instead of being absorbed into the ground. This runoff picks up pollution — from trash, roads and sidewalks, lawns, construction sites, and other surfaces — and flows, untreated, into rivers, streams and other waterways. Worse, after big storms, water runoff overwhelms the combined sewer systems in larger cities, releasing raw sewage directly into waterways.

Although of less concern in New Jersey, other risks to our clean water also need attention. These problems include runoff from farms, discharges from manufacturing, and outdated water infrastructure (think Flint, Mich.).

To be clear, your beer is safe. But beer is mostly water, and much of the distinctive flavor of beer comes from the taste of that water. Even tiny changes in the taste of the water will affect the flavor of the beer that uses that water. That’s why brewers prize clean water.

And your favorite local craft brewer isn’t the only one hurt when our clean water is threatened. New Jersey’s 109 craft breweries generate more than $1.6 million a year toward the state’s economy. And the state’s nonalcoholic beverage business, with more than 6,000 employees receiving nearly $525 million in wages, contributes $4.3 billion to the state economy

…your beer is safe. But beer is mostly water, and much of the distinctive flavor of beer comes from the taste of that water.

Overall, the Delaware River, which feeds the watershed of four states including New Jersey, contributes over $22 billion in annual economic activity and supports 600,000 direct and indirect jobs, with $10 billion in wages.

So we owe a lot to water. How can we protect it?

One solution is to invest in two important types of infrastructure.

The first is gray infrastructure — the traditional systems that move and purify water. Just like our bridges and roads, they need regular maintenance, replacement when they can’t be cost-effectively repaired, and expansion to handle population and industrial growth.

The second is green infrastructure, an exciting and relatively new concept that harnesses nature and natural processes to save money and protect the environment. This approach includes covering roofs with plants and building rain gardens to catch and absorb runoff before it can go into waterways. Coupled with wetlands restoration and plant or tree buffers along rivers and streams, these innovations absorb and filter stormwater to reduce runoff and remove pollutants.

Businesses in our state need to get behind increasing public investment in both forms of infrastructure.

Two federal proposals would provide funding to New Jersey and other states to invest in water infrastructure. The Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act of 2019 would increase overall water infrastructure funding for states, and the Water Infrastructure Sustainability and Efficiency Act (WISE) Act would increase federal water infrastructure funding for green infrastructure. Similarly, New Jersey state legislators could pass a bill like one enacted in New York State that invested $2.5 billion in water infrastructure projects

At the local level, municipal and county governments can implement a variety of ordinances to control runoff, including Sustainable Jersey’s model ordinance that requires development projects to retain runoff on-site. Called the Stormwater Management Control Ordinance, it goes beyond the state’s weak requirements and mandates green infrastructure be part of compliance.

While you relax and enjoy a fresh, local craft beer this summer, remember our water – and the need to protect it. This is a good time to let policymakers at the federal, state and local levels know that you want them to do everything it takes to keep our state’s water clean.


Alexis Degan is executive director of the New Jersey Brewers Association, which represents over half of the breweries in the state.

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