Turning water into beer….and jobs

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The Sierra Nevada Brewing Company recently announced that they are building an East Coast brewery in the Town of Mills River just outside of Asheville, North Carolina. According to Sierra Nevada representatives, the company chose the Western North Carolina location out of 200 different sites and after several years of searching because of its community and values, as well as the area’s water quality and quantity. This will be the second brewing location for the company. Up until now, Chico, California has served as the only originator of the brewery’s hallmark beer: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

Water and sewer systems are an intricate part of Sierra Nevada’s business plan, and they focused on this community characteristic in their search which seemed to be as, if not more, important as economic development financial incentives. According to a recent article published in The Roanoke Times,Roanoke, Virginia was Sierra Nevada’s second choice for the site. In addition to $8.7 million in land, construction and tax reimbursement grants, Roanoke County’s Economic Development Director sent a full case of drinking water from their Spring Hollow Reservoir, hoping that the gift would remind the company of the ample and high-quality water supply in the region. Despite the gesture, the company ultimately chose North Carolina as its Eastern home.

A recent article in the Asheville Citizen-Times reported that the beer company plans to use mostly well water for its beer making, but will use Asheville Water for fire protection and other services and possibly as a backup for brewing. Their groundwater will be fed by the Mills River Watershed that sits upstream from the future site. This 45,000-acre watershed is comprised of 73% public forest land, 4.4% National Park Service (Blue Ridge Parkway) and 22.6% private or local government ownership. The UNC Environmental Finance Center developed a multi-media informational infography describing the special attributes and threats to this beautiful watershed in the mountains of NC found at: http://www.efc.unc.edu/projects/mills_river.htm.

The Brewery chose the Asheville Water-served location despite a storied hullaballoo between the City and the County over water and water rates. They plan to “sustainably” build their brewery over the next two years and eventually employ 90 people. The Chico, California site has an extensive water treatment program, including an onsite wastewater treatment facility designed to minimize the effluent on the wastewater system.

Mary Tiger was formerly on staff with the UNC Environmental Finance Center.

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