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Transcript: How do Vermont breweries manage their wastewater?

An episode transcript from Brave Little State. To access the episode feature, click here.

Note: Our show is produced for the ear. We recommend listening to the audio if you can! Also, transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers. They may contain errors, so please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print. 

Cold open

Angela Evancie: Umm, all right, shall we get started?

Howard Weiss-Tisman: Let's do it.

Angela Evancie: OK. Hello, Howard Weiss-Tisman.

Howard Weiss-Tisman: Hey, Angela Evancie

Angela Evancie: Can you tell me where this story starts?

Howard Weiss-Tisman: Well, this story starts in Richmond at Stone Corral Brewery.

(music)

Howard Weiss-Tisman: Hey there! 

Ryan McKeon: Howard?

Howard Weiss-Tisman: How you doing? 

Ryan McKeon: Good, I’m Ryan. 

Howard Weiss-Tisman: You’re Ryan, good to meet you.

Ryan McKeon: You as well.

(music)

Howard Weiss-Tisman: Uh, it's about two hours north from where I live. And I left early in the morning, because I wanted to catch them on a busy day. They had a full brewing schedule that day. And so I drove up to Richmond to watch them make beer.

Howard Weiss-Tisman: How many beers on tap do you have here?

Ryan McKeon: Oh, right now I think we have 13 beers on tap. I'm adding a new one today. We make in-house room beer, in-house craft seltzer (fade down)

Angela Evancie: Who were you talking with there?

Howard Weiss-Tisman: So I met Ryan McKeon. And he's the head brewer there, he's been brewing in Vermont and all around for quite a while. He started in his apartment in Burlington, he told me. So I got there early in the morning. And he was just starting on a batch of their imperial stout, which is a very hefty beer, very dark and very sweet. And you know, he was dealing with a wastewater issue as soon as I got there. He was cleaning up some of the overflow from the beer he had made the previous day.

Ryan McKeon: We’re a little behind today, so you didn't miss anything yet. Has to do with wastewater, though. 

Howard Weiss-Tisman: (laughs) Imagine that.  

Ryan McKeon: Yeah, that’s all.

Angela Evancie: Well, it sounds a little coincidental that he was dealing with something wastewater related when you first showed up.

Howard Weiss-Tisman: It is coincidental, because that's one of the reasons why I was up there. Umm, I do like beer. (laughs) And I wanted to learn a little bit more about the wastewater that comes out at the other end of the process, so to speak.

Ryan McKeon: Just doing what it’s doing, there would be a mess on the floor, which was the holding cage, which increases BOD that we send to the the town. So to avoid that, I hook it up to my kettle overnight. So if it does blow off, we got it all. Then I come into my side stream. (fade down)

Howard Weiss-Tisman: And so the reason why I'm interested in wastewater at breweries is because of today's question-asker.

Angela Evancie: Yeah. Caleb, right?

Howard Weiss-Tisman: Caleb.

Howard Weiss-Tisman: So thanks a lot for coming in, Caleb.

Caleb Henderson: Yeah, thanks for having me.

Howard Weiss-Tisman: So Caleb Henderson, he went to our studio in Colchester. I was down in Brattleboro. And our intern Mae helped set that up. And we talked about why Caleb was curious about this.

Howard Weiss-Tisman: And where do you live?

Caleb Henderson: I live in Winooski.

Howard Weiss-Tisman: Winooski. Um, so we're all very excited about the question you asked. There are a lot of beer fans at Vermont Public. (fade down)

Howard Weiss-Tisman: So Caleb works at Mount Mansfield Maple Products in Winooski.

Caleb Henderson: So I just kind of grab some maple off the shelf and send it on its way to people across the country, and hopefully they get to enjoy it.

Angela Evancie: That is a very Vermonty job.

Howard Weiss-Tisman: It is a very Vermonty job. You know, it's all about sweet liquid, which is kind of what we're going to be talking a lot about today.

Angela Evancie: Ooh, nice connection!

Caleb Henderson: I'm actually not much of a beer drinker, I'm more of a cider person. Um, but I really got started very heavily with like wastewater and like water conservation and quality when I was taking classes with UVM. They had a water and natural resource course that you know, I (fade down)...

Howard Weiss-Tisman: So Caleb became interested in wastewater when he was taking a class at UVM and he wrote a paper about it too when he was at Southern New Hampshire University.

Caleb Henderson: I had titled it "Environmentalism brews (h)optimism. "(laughs)  I was just trying to do like a play on words where I had really got interested in a Seven Days article by Katie Jickling about wastewater woes in Burlington, and I just found that really fascinating. That had been published in 2018.

Howard Weiss-Tisman: And so what Caleb is talking about there is back in 2018, wastewater was in the news.

Archive newsreel: 1.8 million gallons of partially treated wastewater discharged into Lake Champlain since Friday. People in the area are fed up with the spills and don't want to hear excuses from the city.

(fade down)

Howard Weiss-Tisman: There was an overflow at Burlington. It was during the summer and it came after some heavy rains. And there were actually a bunch of things that went on, some equipment broke down. But the Burlington wastewater department actually ended up releasing a whole bunch of nasty overflow right into Lake Champlain. And the head of the wastewater department said that one of the reasons that happened is because of all of this wastewater that was flowing out of the breweries in town.

Archive newsreel:There’s also growing concern about beer's environmental impact.

(static)

Archive newsreel: Public works blamed that failure on intense rain falling at the same time as large discharges from food and drink producers. 

Howard Weiss-Tisman: Right, so Caleb heard these stories in 2018. And he was kind of wondering, you know, how's it going? How are the breweries doing? How are the wastewater plants doing and what's happening to all of this wastewater?

Caleb Henderson: There was like a projection for it to be a two year plan. We know how 2020 went so I don't think people were really concerned about the wastewater. But I really just wanted an update. I wanted to see what was going on.

(Brave Little State theme music)

Angela Evancie: From Vermont Public, this is Brave Little State. I’m Angela Evancie. Here on the show we answer questions about Vermont that have been asked and voted on by you, our audience – because we want our journalism to be more inclusive, more transparent, and more fun. Today:

Caleb Henderson: My name is Caleb Henderson. And I live in Winooski.

Angela Evancie: A question about the liquid coming out of Vermont's breweries that you do NOT want to drink:

Caleb Henderson: Breweries and cideries were in the news a few years ago for their wastewater. How are they mitigating their waste now? Has it improved?

Angela Evancie: Reporter Howard Weiss-Tisman dives deep into the world of water regulation and treatment…

Megan Moir: Most of wastewater is keeping the bugs happy.

Angela Evancie: And learns how Vermont breweries are managing their so-called effluent.

Ryan McKeon: We pay for every gallon that gets picked up out of there.

Angela Evancie: We have support from Vermont Public's sustaining members. Welcome.

What’s so bad about beer waste?

Angela Evancie: Howard, why is wastewater from breweries something that needs to be managed?

Howard Weiss-Tisman: Well, there are two reasons. And one reason is that Vermont has a lot of breweries. There's this organization called the Brewers Association. They gather data from across the country. And they say that Vermont is number one in the nation in breweries per capita. They're popping up in cities, they're popping up down dirt roads. As more and more breweries open, wastewater is becoming more of an issue. And the second reason why this is important is because the wastewater that comes out of breweries is very hard to deal with at the wastewater plants.

Angela Evancie: So what is it about the waste from brewing that is impactful to wastewater systems?

(music)

Ryan McKeon: If we want 10 gallons of beer, it might take 15 or 16 gallons to make. Add another two or three gallons in there for cleaning…

Howard Weiss-Tisman: One of the reasons that I went up to Stone Corral was to watch them brew. And Ryan McKeon, the head brewer there, he was really generous with his time, and he took me through the whole process. And there's a lot of water involved.

Ryan McKeon: When we're done with the brewing process, there's spent water, there's also spent trube in the kettle from adding the hops and additives in the kettle as well. When we're done, we skim off all the good stuff and create beer, we leave the bad stuff behind. 

(music)

Howard Weiss-Tisman: Right, and so the reason why Ryan has to take care of this stuff is that this liquid is what they call high strength waste. There is a term called biological oxygen demand, you're going to hear, that's BOD. And what that basically means is that this liquid has a lot of sugar in it, and it takes the wastewater plants a lot of work to take care of that waste. Now, this stuff also has something called total suspended solids, that's TSS, and that includes the hops and the yeast runoff, and all of the kind of heavier, grainier stuff, which is also really tough for the wastewater plants to deal with. Lastly, they're worried about pH, a lot of cleaning products, a lot of the byproducts of the beer-making changes the pH. And so if this wastewater runs directly into the wastewater plant, it really puts a strain on the whole system there.

(music)

To find out a little more about that, I went to Burlington and I met Megan Moir…

Howard Weiss-Tisman: Are you Megan? Hi Megan.

Howard Weiss-Tisman: She's head of the water department in Burlington and she walked me around the wastewater plant a little bit.

Megan Moir: And the only reason we're really concerned about places like breweries, or cideries, or really any food processing facility is that the strength or the organic, the amount of organics that is in their wastewater effluent is higher than what would normally be coming from a person's house…

Howard Weiss-Tisman: Now, wastewater plants are pretty much made to handle human waste. And, as part of the process, they have these microbes that kind of munch on the waste in the water. And that makes it easier to process it.

Megan Moir: Most of wastewater is keeping the bugs happy.

Howard Weiss-Tisman: And so when breweries send in their effluent, that's the high BOD stuff, it's basically sweet sugar water, it's from the runoff of the grains. And when the breweries send too much of their high strength waste into the wastewater plant, it overwhelms the system. And these bugs, these microbes, they can't do their work.

Megan Moir: When we get slugs of high organic material, it's basically too much food. Like if you think the bacteria here are at a buffet and you got to feed them just the right amounts, so that they can keep up with it and bring it into their bodies and settle down. If you give them way too much pizza, some pieces of pizza are going to continue to float out. The wastewater won't be able to be fully managed by the bacteria. And then it can then cause problems further down the line. 

Howard Weiss-Tisman: And the breweries that are in Burlington are not super large. They're brew pubs. There's a couple of them that are a little larger and can. But because there are so many breweries in Burlington, the system has not been able to handle it.

Megan Moir: It's just because beer, the process of making beer has a ton of organic material in it. It's just by virtue of the the medium of, media in which they're working to produce amazing, tasty products, that what's coming out the other end does have more organics. So, yeah, They're not doing anything wrong, we just need to work together to see what they could do differently, to not send quite as much down the pipe.

(music)

Howard Weiss-Tisman: I spoke with Nick Giannetti. He works at the Department of Environmental Conservation. And he really helped me understand it.

Nick Giannetti: It’s really just a symptom of the industry that we have here in Vermont.

Howard Weiss-Tisman: The wastewater that comes out of the breweries, it’s like 30 times stronger than the wastewater that comes out of, you know, people’s houses or most other industries.

Nick Giannetti: The BOD of wastewater coming out of a household is 300 milligrams per liter. The wastewater coming out of some of these food and beverage manufacturers are 10,000 milligrams per liter or above. Much higher strength than what wastewater would be coming out of a household or an office. And the wastewater treatment plants aren't designed to treat high strength waste. They're designed to treat domestic strength wastewater, residential wastewater.

(music?)

Angela Evancie: So how are breweries regulated?

Howard Weiss-Tisman: So this is where it gets a little bit complicated. I talked to Nick a few times. And one thing that he kept saying to me is that every brewery is site specific.

(“site-specific” montage)

Howard Weiss-Tisman: And what he means there is that each brewery is different in how much overflow they produce. And it also is contingent on the wastewater plant in town. So there are some wastewater plants, you know, that can maybe handle some of the overflow and there are some wastewater plants that just can't. What's really interesting is in Burlington, none of those breweries have state discharge permits because they are not large enough to, quote unquote, impact the wastewater plant in Burlington.

Nick Giannetti: You have a number of smaller breweries that, individually, aren't exceeding our permit criteria. Therefore, we don't regulate them. And so it falls on the municipality to, you know, regulate those discharges such that they ensure the proper operation of their wastewater treatment plant.

Howard Weiss-Tisman: You know, and some of the larger breweries with some of the names we’ve heard about — Von Trapp and Alchemist and Lawson’s — they built their own pre-treatment systems right there on their property. Pre-treatment is anything that a brewery does to treat the water before it’s released to the wastewater treatment plant.

Nick Giannetti: So, like, The Alchemist in Stowe, for example, they're producing single digits in terms of concentration of BOD in wastewater. So, they're producing lower than domestic strength wastewater with their pretreatment system.

Howard Weiss-Tisman: And Vermont is way ahead of a lot of the rest of the country in how breweries are treating this water. And it’s also really interesting, a lot of these engineering firms that help these breweries develop these pre-treatment systems, they’re really pushing the technology and, you know, the advancements that they’ve made here in Vermont.

Angela Evancie: So, Howard, we started this episode at Stone Corral in Richmond. It doesn’t seem like they have a giant, fancy pre-treatment system. So, what do they do with their waste?

Howard Weiss-Tisman: Yeah, that’s right. You know, a lot of the midsize breweries, they do a thing called “side-streaming.” And it’s pretty much, you know, what it sounds. Trying to gather all of this waste, all of this liquid, and putting it off to the side, instead of sending it down the drain. They gather it up in tanks, and they make sure that it doesn't end up in the wastewater treatment plant.

Ryan McKeon: Exactly. A lot of other places will use big buckets and things like that. But if those overflow, it doesn't solve the problem. So these are the containers that we use to fill with anything — post-fermentation spent yeast, hops, excess water from the brewing process, anything along that nature with high solids goes right into here… (fades)

Angela Evancie: So side-streaming is what removes a lot of these really organic-rich liquids from the wastewater stream. When breweries side-stream, where does that stuff go? What do they do with it?

Howard Weiss-Tisman: Most of them will pay a waste operator to take it away. And it might end up at a farm, or at a compost facility, and some of it has even gone to digesters, to places that make energy out of it.

Solutions?

Angela Evancie: So just to be clear, do all breweries have to side stream?

Howard Weiss-Tisman: The wastewater operator usually will include that as a condition for them to flow into the plant. They're not required by the state to do it. But yes, every brewery right now in Vermont, is trying to side stream.

(music)

So remember, Caleb heard that story back in 2018, when the city of Burlington released a whole bunch of sewage into the lake. And the wastewater operator said a big reason why that happened is because of what was running out of breweries. So Caleb kind of was wondering, you know, how's it going? How are breweries doing? How are wastewater plants handling all of this?

And as I've been doing this reporting over the past couple of weeks, I've learned that, you know, this is still in play. Nobody's putting up a mission accomplished banner. There's still a lot of challenges and a lot of communities that are grappling with this.

Megan Moir: I believe that our Burlington breweries, because we've had conversations with them, because they're aware that we're looking at this, I believe that they also are probably starting to do things voluntarily.

Howard Weiss-Tisman: And so when I was in Burlington, talking to Megan Moir, she's the head of the water department there, she told me that the city's gonna go to the legislature next year, to try to get authority to start their own permitting program. And this is a really big deal. So right now the state handles all the permitting, but the City of Burlington wants to start its own.

Megan Moir: We believe that by creating our own local program, versus letting the state maybe come in and regulate, that we're going to be able to come out with a better, more tailored process for us in our plant, as well as for those industries. Because we value those industries being in Burlington, we just need to figure out what they may need to do a little differently. How do we make sure that we build a regulatory program that treats them fairly, but then also retain some additional capacity for other businesses? Because the last thing we want to do is like –

Howard Weiss-Tisman: Say “no more breweries.” 

Megan Moir: Exactly. I mean, that's never gonna fly anywhere.

Howard Weiss-Tisman: And what’s really interesting with this is that the way the legislation will likely be written is that, if Burlington does it, any municipality in the state that has its own wastewater treatment plant would also be able to start their own permitting program. And it’s gonna be really interesting to watch, you know, I’m wondering what business groups and breweries think about this.

Angela Evancie: You've been referring to all these breweries in Burlington, and I can think of a couple of the big ones off the top of my head – and cideries, right? We've got Citizen Cider, Switchback, Zero Gravity. Did you talk to any of them for this episode?

Howard Weiss-Tisman: Yeah, we tried to speak to them. I reached out to a bunch of businesses. Switchback got back to me and said that they didn’t want to comment on what was going on with the city. I sent a couple of emails out to Citizen Cider, even knocked on the door of their business offices there on Pine Street, and they weren’t willing to talk about this either. But I finally did get in touch with someone at Zero Gravity.

Matt Wilson: Yeah, yeah, I've got a moment. Sure.

Howard Weiss-Tisman: Excellent. So I appreciate you taking the time…

Howard Weiss-Tisman: They’re on Pine Street too in Burlington, and I spoke to Matt Wilson. He’s one of the co-owners there.

Matt Wilson: We’re operating 100% inside the contract that we have with the city.

Howard Weiss-Tisman: You know, from Matt’s perspective, he’s saying that Zero Gravity is doing everything they’re supposed to do.

Matt Wilson: You know, we're underneath our permitted capacity in that plant, we follow all of their rules around, you know, discharging anything, we pay certain surcharges for anything that's high BOD, or anything like that.

Howard Weiss-Tisman: Remember, what’s happening in Burlington is that each one of these breweries don’t have specific pretreatment requirements, each one independently, but all of them together are putting a big strain on the Burlington plant.

Matt Wilson: So, you know, a good, I don't know, comp to that might be, you know, a theater, that, you know, it really only has the capacity to handle 250 attendees to a certain event. Well, then you don't sell 350 tickets. You know, I think that that's not the people that went to the show’s problem, they showed up, they had a ticket, right? They're holding up their end of the bargain. It's really on the theater for selling too many tickets. And I think that, to me, kind of, is the point here is it's not the breweries collectively, Zero Gravity or otherwise, we're just showing up to the show. We're doing our part of that, you know, I think the city may have oversold their ability to handle that many – that many breweries, right?

Howard Weiss-Tisman: And he was a little bit frustrated with how the breweries are being, you know, talked about in the media. He mentioned the story back in 2018 when the wastewater plant in Burlington released that sewage into Lake Champlain, and he said even back then folks got the story wrong. So there’s still, I don’t know if I would call it bad blood, but there’s still a lot of misunderstanding between the two sides. There’s still a lot of work to do on this.

Angela Evancie: And what did Matt think of the potential legislation that might come before lawmakers next year?

Matt Wilson: I haven’t heard about that, no. That’s not something they’ve kept us in the loop about. (Oh that’s interesting…)

Angela Evancie: After the break…brewers in smaller communities react to how they’re being regulated.

Allen Van Anda: Yeah honestly, I mean, it's a long story. We fought this on a legal level back in ‘18, when they were trying to put this through…

Angela Evancie: That’s right after this, on Brave Little State.

Smaller communities

Angela Evancie: It’s Brave Little State. I’m Angela Evancie. Today we are answering a question from Caleb Henderson about how Vermont breweries and cideries are managing their wastewater, and why that matters. My colleague Howard Weiss-Tisman had the plumb assignment of driving around to a lotta different breweries to answer this question.

Angela Evancie: Well, Howard, before the break, we were talking about why it's so important to manage wastewater from breweries and cideries, so it doesn't overwhelm municipal treatment plants with high strength waste. High BOD. We left off in Burlington, which has a lot of breweries, as we all know, and it sounds like they’re definitely trying to figure things out there still. I’m curious, what's happening in smaller communities?

Howard Weiss-Tisman: Well, um, this was a pretty fun episode to report, I gotta say, I got to drive around Vermont and visit breweries. It was late fall, so it was quite beautiful and fun to taste some beer and meet some of these folks. I went to Hinesburg and I visited Garin Frost.

Garin Frost: Good morning, sir.

Howard Weiss-Tisman: Hi, there.

Garin Frost: How are you?

Howard Weiss-Tisman: Good, thanks for hanging out. 

Howard Weiss-Tisman: He started Frost Beer Works.

Howard Weiss-Tisman: Tell me the Frost history, condensed version?

Garin Frost: Well, the condensed version is, we started and we started right here, 1,000 square feet, little, small little section.

Howard Weiss-Tisman: You know, Garin opened Frost Beer Works in 2015. And he started really small. He told me that when he started his brewery, he had no wastewater permits he had to worry about. He was sending all of his waste just right down the drain into the Hinesburg wastewater plant.

Garin Frost: It never posed a problem. We were only at the time doing I think around 3,500 barrels, or something like that.

Howard Weiss-Tisman: You know, he even told me about some really funky mechanisms he put up when he started dealing with it.

Garin Frost: We would put a, like a sock – when we'd come out of our whirlpool, we put a sock to catch all the hops that were coming off the bottom of it. So we were doing that, and of course, we were side streaming some of the things that were coming out of the cellar, you know, yeast…

Howard Weiss-Tisman: So Garin brews some pretty good beer at Frost Beer Works, and his business grew and grew.

Garin Frost: And as, of course, production increased, so did the effluent.

Howard Weiss-Tisman: And then in 2017 or so, another brewery moved to town and things got out of hand pretty quickly.

Garin Frost: And there, the combination of our two effluence was enough to basically tip the scale.

Howard Weiss-Tisman: And so Garin’s problem was that, you know, he says no one told him that this was an issue. He was brewing beer, and selling a lot of it, and his business was growing. And as he brewed more and more beer, no one told him that he needed to think about the wastewater.

Garin Frost: And so it is a little bit of a, you know, for me, when they came in, and were like, “Wow, you got to stop everything.” I was like, guys, we've been doing this stuff for you know, at that point, we'd like four years, five years, and all of a sudden, everybody's up in arms, like, why didn't we like have a progressive sort of approach to this instead of just immediately, it's like, “the sky is falling,” you know, and I had to jump through hoops to, you know, to stop the sky from falling. And we did it, but I could only act so quickly.

Howard Weiss-Tisman: You know, so it sounded like things got pretty sticky there in Hinesburg for a little while. I was able to reach some folks that work for the town – I spoke to someone at the wastewater plant. Now he wasn’t around back then, but what he did tell me is that the work that is being done at Frost Beer Works, and at the other brewery in town, it definitely made a difference. They’ve seen a big improvement at the plant since Garin made all of these changes.

Garin Frost: However, it’s still a cost that you have to address.

Howard Weiss-Tisman: He walked me around the brewery, he told me about his side-streaming.

Garin Frost: You can see all of our hoses are all connected to, you know, to diaphragm pumps, sort of, you know, to positive displacement pumps, where everything we do is going…

Howard Weiss-Tisman: He carts it off to a farm nearby. And things seem pretty under control right now, but Garin was still critical of, you know, the state system, the education, he wants people – as more and more breweries open, they need to think about this as they're starting their business.

Garin Frost: In my opinion, the town, or the towns in the state should learn from this experience of Frost Beer Works in kind of take that approach with other customers. Like let's be proactive about these things. Let's not wait.

Nick Giannetti: Hinesburg was, yeah, I think it's a good example of what we're trying to prevent from occurring.

So that’s Nick Giannetti again, from the Department of Environmental Conservation. And you know, he says that this has really been an issue over the past few years. He admits that there were a couple of rocky instances, you know a couple years ago, but the DEC is really trying to make it a point to do more and more education. And if you open a brewery today, wastewater treatment is right at the top of the list of some of the things that you need to think about.

Nick Giannetti: We've just been doing training and outreach. And that's been our focus as of recently, well the past five years. 

Howard Weiss-Tisman: This also gets into some interesting discussions about some of our most rural breweries, some breweries are way out down dirt roads, they have their own septic systems. And they have to deal with it just because their own septic system couldn't handle it. So that's kind of a different conversation, because the way that's regulated, that's actually a surface water permit, as opposed to a wastewater permit. That's kind of a whole, a whole different side stream.

(music)

Howard Weiss-Tisman: Now, I also spoke to a brewer in Morrisville.

Allen Van Anda: Yeah, I mean, it's a long story. We fought this on a legal level back in ‘18, when they were trying to put this through…

Howard Weiss-Tisman: The situation and Morrisville has been brewing for quite a few years now. They have a few breweries in town, there's Lost Nation brewing up there, and Rock Art. And so the water commission up there, they are starting a program, actually, in January to start charging these breweries a little more.

Allen Van Anda: We've got this, you know, mark on our back, that we’re always the problem. And I think that's, that's through the years, because sewer plants have been negatively impacted by breweries. 

Howard Weiss-Tisman: I spoke to Allen Van Anda, he's the guy who is part owner of Lost Nation Brewery. And he's not too happy about the way things have been going. He told me that they are side-streaming, he told me that the waste that is running out of his brewery is not any stronger than what's coming out of, you know, a local Dunkin’ Donuts or a supermarket or something like that.

Allen Van Anda: You know, my argument is, to them, out of 100% of BOD that's going into the plant, we're only putting like 3.5, 3% of that. So where's the other 97% coming from? And are you going to be able to charge accordingly for that other 97%? And the answer is no, they're not. So my argument then is that it's not equitable.

Howard Weiss-Tisman: He doesn't feel like this new policy is being equitably enforced. As it's written right now, there are only three companies in town who are going to be paying these new rates, the two breweries, and there's also a maple syrup packaging company up there. So these three companies are going to be paying higher rates to the Morrisville Water and Light. And Allen just doesn't like that. He thinks that there has to be a better way to measure it.

Allen Van Anda: I don't really even know who, but everyone contributes to BOD. You know, if you put sugar down the drain, you're contributing to BOD. If you’re a restaurant, you're contributing to BOD. So, you know, anyone who's got a soft-serve creemee machine, if you ever washed one of those things out, you're contributing to BOD.

Angela Evancie: And what's the stance of Morrisville Water and Light?

Howard Weiss-Tisman: Morrisville Water and Light say that they've done their homework. One of the reasons that it's taken this long, is because they have gone around testing. And they stand by their data. They say that it is the breweries that are impacting these systems, and they are going to start charging these breweries a little more.

Allen Van Anda: I guess in their defense, you got to start somewhere, right? It’s to financially incentivize us to put less down the drain.

Howard Weiss-Tisman: Now, when I spoke to Nick Giannetti, at the Department of Environmental Conservation, you know, these wastewater operators entirely are allowed to do this. They don't need to get any legislation done.

Nick Giannetti: And that's not uncommon. There are other municipalities around the state that implement a surcharge program. Middlebury is one example. There are others as well.

Angela Evancie: It's interesting, we opened this conversation acknowledging something I think a lot of Vermonters are really proud of, right? That we have the most breweries per capita, and our craft beer scene and craft cider is so treasured. And at the same time, hearing you talk about the way that these different communities are grappling with wastewater from breweries, it sounds like such a patchwork approach. How would you characterize sort of the state of things right now?

Howard Weiss-Tisman: You know, to go back to Caleb's question, I think it's fair to say that Vermont is in a lot better spot today than we were when these craft breweries were just opening. And there are a lot of states that are kind of behind Vermont, and they're just dealing with this, you know, you see these articles where it's like, wastewater, beer, it's a big issue, you better be thinking about it! And so we're a little bit ahead of the curve.

Nick Giannetti: We’re investing in good wastewater management and also education, right? Because I think that that's part of it, too.

Howard Weiss-Tisman: It's going pretty well. But it's going to continue to be an issue. Because these wastewater plants need to continue operating successfully. Because if a community doesn't have a wastewater plant that's working, that means that they can't bring in more housing, they can't bring in more development. And so Nick is really trying to stay ahead of all this.

Nick Giannetti: I think that's the whole idea, right, is we want to properly manage the wastewater plants so that we can encourage smart, environmentally friendly growth, economic development and support our local businesses while protecting the environment.

Howard Weiss-Tisman: And the State of Vermont got a whole bunch of ARPA money. That's the American Rescue Plan Act, that was the COVID relief money, that is going into all sorts of things in Vermont, and they earmarked about $5 million to help wastewater plant operators and municipalities upgrade their system, and make sure they can deal with this stuff in a more healthy and environmentally friendly way.

(music)

And so, you know, this is a lot to think about — housing and development and wastewater. And, you know, to wrap up this episode, I think I want to go back to Richmond, to Stone Corral.

Howard Weiss-Tisman: Yeah, let's go over there. That'd be cool.

So I sat down with Bret Hamilton, he's the owner of Stone Corral, he owns it with his wife, Melissa. And he talked about what he wants to do as a good citizen, as a Vermonter, as someone who who wants to see Richmond succeed.

Bret Hamilton: For Stone Corral, it's about being a good neighbor, making sure that we're taking care of the of the resources around us. I think one of the most important ones though, is that human beings, almost everything we do causes inordinate impacts on our natural environment.

Howard Weiss-Tisman: Bret talked a lot about the impact all of us have – industries, individuals, all of us – on the planet, on the animals, on the plants that are here. You know, he wants his brewery to have as little impact as possible.

Bret Hamilton: You know, I like to fish. I like to go out on the Winooski and, and, you know, see what's running. If we weren't taking care of that water, permitting aside, if everybody were just pouring everything down the drain, the Winooski river would be uninhabitable to the wildlife that we so much enjoy.

Howard Weiss-Tisman: And so if it's costing him a little bit more money, and it's taking a little bit more time to deal with this stuff, he says it's important to do because, healthy brewery is part of you know, being on a healthy planet. And we need to keep drinking beer. I mean, that's important, right?

Angela Evancie: We need to!

Howard Weiss-Tisman: (laughs) We need to! So if these breweries are going to keep making good beer, and we're gonna keep buying it and drinking it, we've got to strike a balance.

Angela Evancie: Howard!

Howard Weiss-Tisman: Yes?

Angela Evancie: Thank you for your reporting on this. It's been really fun to learn everything you've learned.

Howard Weiss-Tisman: It was great. You know, being able to learn about beer, talk about beer and drink beer has been pretty fun. (laughter)

Credits

Angela Evancie: Thanks so much for listening to the show. And thanks to Caleb Henderson for the great question.

Some disclosures are in order – a lot of the folks Howard talked to and mentioned in this episode either are or have been Vermont Public or BLS underwriters: including The Alchemist, Switchback, Citizen Cider and the Agency of Natural Resources, which houses the Department of Environmental Conservation. And Lawson’s Finest Liquids brews a beer named after our show that helps support our station.

To see photos from Howard’s reporting, check out our website, bravelittlestate.org. While you’re there you can submit your own question about Vermont, sign up for the BLS newsletter, and check out our archive of over 120 episodes. Find us on Instagram and Reddit @bravestatevt.

Howard Weiss-Tisman reported this episode. I produced it, with research and studio help from Mae Nagusky. Mix and sound design by Josh Crane, Mae Nagusky and me, with additional help from our BLS teammate Myra Flynn. Ty Gibbons composed our theme music; other music by Blue Dot Sessions.

Special thanks to the crew at the Richmond wastewater plant, the Vermont Brewers Association and Lui Schmit.

Brave Little State is a production of Vermont Public. We have support from our station’s sustaining members. If you liked what you heard today, head to bravelittlestate.org/donate – or just tell your friends to listen.

I’m Angela Evancie. We’ll be back soon with more people-powered Vermont journalism. Until then.

Corrected: November 21, 2022 at 12:57 PM EST
The original audio for this episode referenced a digester in Randolph that is no longer in operation. We've updated the audio and corresponding transcript to remove the reference.