How Craft Beer Is Helping Save Water In the Colorado River Basin

The Western Rivers Brewers Council continues to be an integral partner of Audubon Arizona’s dedication to a sustainable water future.

After the Arizona legislature reached a historic agreement with the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP), Audubon Arizona remains focused on water policy that benefits rivers, economies, habitats, birds, and other wildlife. The breweries of the Western Rivers Brewers’ Council—21 of them in all—want lawmakers to also consider the effects of water shortages on the state's billion-dollar craft beer industry.

“Nothing is more important to the production of beer than clean water. Besides being the largest ingredient in beer, it is also essential to grow the barley and the hops,” says Derek Osborne, director of brewing operations at Pedal Haus Brewery in Tempe, Ariz. “Anything we as a brewing community can do to help preserve and maintain natural water sources is fundamental to our values.”

Audubon Arizona formed the Western Rivers Brewers’ Council in 2017 to supports its mission to protect rivers across the Colorado River Basin. The brewers in the coalition know that a reliable water supply is critical to their craft, and they support Audubon and its Western Rivers Action Network partners' priorities. Through sharing conservation opportunities, publishing opinions in local newspapers, creating collaborative brews, and going to events like Western Rivers Day, these conservation-minded brewers are bringing legislators and constituents together on issues like water management.

The brewers use their industry’s clout and reliance on water to demand water conservation by showing that sustainable water management is good business.

“Not all lawmakers are motivated by environmental concerns,” says Steven Prager, Audubon Arizona’s Important Bird Areas program associate and initial organizer of the Brewers’ Council. “For some, it is business and economics."

According to the Brewing Association, an industry trade group of craft brewers from across the United States, the craft beer industry contributed over a billion dollars to the state’s economy in both 2017 and 2018.

To support Audubon's sustainable water-policy effort, several brewers on the Western Rivers Brewers’ Council collaborated on bird-themed beers to get the word out about water conservation. In just the past 18 months, Audubon and the Brewers’ Council have made five collaborative brews: Hummingbird Springs Saison (Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company), Rain Crow IPA (Borderlands Brewing Company, Wren House Brewing Company, Crooked Tooth Brewing Company), Great-horned Owl IPA (Borderlands Brewing Company), Ridgway’s Rail IPA (Prison Hill Brewing Company), and Summer on the Salt (O.H.S.O Brewery and Distillery, Oro Brewing Company, Pedal Haus Brewing Company). These Brewers’ Council breweries poured these craft beers in their taprooms and distributed them in cans, doing outreach with their clientele along the way.

In fact, each Rain Crow IPA can states: “Craft beer depends on reliable water, and so do birds like the federally threatened Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo. That's why craft brewers and the National Audubon Society are advocating across the Colorado River Basin for water policies that keep great beer (and rivers) flowing.”

“Everyone in the state relies on the health of Arizona’s bodies of waters,” says Carly Jones of Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company. “We want to be more than just an average brew pub—we want to tell our story to others and hopefully make our visitors care about keeping the environment healthy.”

According to Jones, there is a unifying purpose among the coalition of conservation-minded breweries.

Prager says that these brewers want to make an impact on the communities they are working in. And when it comes to water shortages in the Colorado River basin, the Western Rivers Brewers’ Council hopes to redefine the old saying, “whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting” by bringing people together through craft beer.