A Craft Brewery Is Saving This Montana Town Thousands in Water Treatment Costs

Havre's Triple Dog Brewing Company is putting its waste to good use.

The 9,700-ish residents of Havre, Montana are way into its craft beer scene. Triple Dog Brewing Company opened in March 2014… and it closed almost immediately because its excited customers drank its entire beer supply. When it re-opened two weeks later, it had doubled the number of barrels in its brewhouse to ensure that it could accommodate everyone who ordered another round, and then another one after that.

Micro brewery boiling tank with leftover millet ready to be emptied out.
A tank of leftover grains from the brewing process. Nicola Tree/Getty Images

"It’s nice to have something new,” Triple Dog's owner Michael Garrity told the Great Falls Tribune at the time. "Havre is about four years behind the curve, but we catch up."

Thanks to Garrity, the brewery, and those beer-loving locals, Havre is actually ahead of the curve when it comes to, uh, its wastewater treatment techniques. And now other cities, both in Montana and elsewhere, are trying to follow its lead for a change.

Three years ago, Drue Newfield, the manager at Havre's wastewater treatment plant approached Garrity to talk about the possibility of a collaboration of sorts: he wanted to have some of Triple Dog's spent barley. The solid mash has properties that he believed could help with the process of removing nitrogen and phosphorus from the treated water, which Havre needed. (It's complicated, but if those two nutrients aren't kept in check, then algae blooms can develop in the river where the treated water is released, and that can be detrimental to aquatic life.)

“Just out of a thought that I had, I took the fermented organics from the brewery and added it, and we saw those bacteria bring our phosphorus levels lower," Newfield told Yellowstone Public Radio. "So we began to do it over time. We started learning how much to add."

Every morning, 16 gallons of spent barley is emptied into the water before it goes into the treatment pools at the facility. If Newfield had never reached out to Triple Dog, the plant would've had to have purchased a chemical called alum to help bring the phosphorus and nitrogen levels down—or it might've had to spend seven figures for another costly renovation. (In 2015, the Havre had to drop $10 million on the treatment plant, to ensure it could meet the then-new standards required by the Environmental Protection Agency.)

"We know the alum that we saved already is about $16,000 a year for sure," Newfield told NPR. "But if that wouldn't have done it, that's when an upgrade around the corner would have been, and then if we have to do an upgrade, there's where you run into the millions."

After hearing about Havre and Triple Dog, the Bozeman Water Reclamation Facility reached out to its own craft breweries to see if they'd be interested in trying something similar. Last summer, it ran a two-month pilot program that relied on using liquid waste from the beermaking process instead of just spent barley. Despite some promising results, the city abandoned the effort when the pilot ended, citing the cost of transport from the brewery to the water treatment facility.

The next time you order a beer, raise your glass toward Havre, Montana. Heck, go ahead and have a second round: you might be helping the environment, after all.

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