California’s Water Crisis Is Becoming A Beer Crisis

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"California’s Water Crisis Is Becoming A Beer Crisis"

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Along with California’s water supplies and public health, the ongoing drought in the state may have yet another victim to claim: beer.

Lagunitas Brewing Company — one of California’s biggest craft breweries — told NPR last week that the drought is threatening the Russian River, where they get the water for their beer. Such sources play a key role in the brewing process — as NPR notes, producers like Coors and Cold Spring Brewing Co. tout their use of water from the Rockies and a Minnesota natural spring, respectively. But if the drought forces Lagunitas to switch from the river to groundwater for its supplies, the heavy minerals in the latter won’t go well with the beer.

“It would be like brewing with Alka-Seltzer,” Jeremy Marshall, Lagunitas’ head brewer, told NPR.

“In some [of the region's wells] there are taste and odor issues,” added Jay Jasperse, chief engineer with the Sonoma County Water Agency. “You have high nitrate concentrations in places, from agricultural industries, and iron and manganese.”

Lagunitas does have options: they could switch to another facility in Chicago, and they’re experimenting with a reverse osmosis system to purify the groundwater. But many other breweries also operate off the Russian River, and don’t have the scale and resources to pursue those alternatives.

During recent tours of California, President Obama explicitly linked the drought to climate change: higher temperatures generally mean faster evaporation and drier conditions in dry areas. Rainfall shifts to longer dry spells broken by heavier deluges — so when precipitation does come, there’s less time for it to add to snowpack or soak into the ground. That means reduced water supplies for reservoirs like Lake Mendocino, which feeds the Russian River. California officials are worried the lake could come close to disappearing in the summer months if the drought continues.

Beyond water, global warming and the resulting climate change bring shifts in rainfall, stronger storms, droughts, heat waves, and other forms of extreme weather that reduce yields of barely and hops. Heavy rains in Australia and drought in England have damaged barely crops in recent years, and scientists worry the damage could spread to New Zealand as well. A 2009 study suggested the quality of Saaz hops from the Czech Republic has been falling since 1954 due to warmer temperatures. And shifting seasonal patterns started hitting hops crops throughout Europe as early as the 1990s.

“Craft brewers — the emphasis there is on craft,” Jenn Orgolini, the sustainability director for Colorado’s New Belgium Brewery, told the Durango Harold. “We make something, and it’s a deeply agricultural product. So we are tied to the seasons, the productivity of the land and, of course, water.”

And it’s not just beer. The global ecology underlies most everything humans do in some way, and the shifts being wrought by climate change threaten products as diverse as maple syrup, coffee, chili peppers, chocolate and apple pie.

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