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Soil Matters: Finding Clean Water Allies

Outdoor America 2019 Issue 2
Glass of beer

Clean water is important to all of us. But for small businesses that brew beer, make wine, guide anglers, or rent canoes and kayaks, access to clean water can make or break their business.

Business owners can be a powerful voice for protecting water quality. The League needs allies – people who will visit a state legislator, call their member of Congress, write a letter to a local newspaper, or talk with friends and colleagues about the importance of clean water. We also need allies who can help us deliver our message to the community.

Who better to help spread the word about water quality than local business owners who need clean water to thrive? As IWLA’s Agriculture Outreach Coordinator Tim Wagner travels Iowa and Illinois to advocate for conservation programs that help farmers reduce polluted runoff, he is building a network of business leaders who care about clean water.

A Taste for Clean Water

Beer is about 90 percent water, and the quality of the water affects the taste of the beer brewed from it. Naturally occurring minerals like calcium and sodium can help shape the flavor of a beer, while chlorine and ammonia used by water utilities to purify water can ruin a beer’s taste.

Chemicals used to treat drinking water can also harm the helpful bacteria that naturally ferment wine. They can react with the acids in grapes to create TCA, the primary cause of “cork taint” that can ruin the flavor of a wine. Nutrients, pesticides, bacteria, and other pollutants in drinking water sources mean local utilities must do more to make it safe to drink, leaving more chlorine and other chemicals for the brewer or vintner to remove.

Water is so important, most breweries and many wineries now treat their tap water to ensure a high-quality product.

When Wagner talks to craft brewers in Iowa and Illinois about the need for clean water, they get it right away. “The response I’ve received from these folks has been very positive,” says Wagner. “Many are already very aware of water quality issues and have incorporated sustainability practices into their operations, and they market those practices along with their products. Some may not be as aware of the factors affecting water quality, but when we sit down and discuss it, they realize the positive role they can play in advocating for actions to improve water quality.”

Last year, several brewery owners joined other Iowa business leaders in asking Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds to support new funding to help Iowa farmers adopt practices that would reduce polluted runoff. Other brewers have written letters to legislators, offered to sponsor a clean water canoe trip, or hosted a clean water night at their breweries.

A growing number of winery owners are also speaking out on the need for funding and laws that will reduce polluted runoff. “They understand that as independent business owners, their voices carry a lot of weight,” Wagner says.

On the Water

Many types of outfitters make their living by putting people on or near the water. When chemical or manure runoff pollutes a river or lake, it can create an unpleasant – even dangerous – experience for people who swim, fish, or boat.

These problems affect the bottom line for canoe and kayak outfitters, fishing guides, duck hunting guides, beach and marina managers, and bait shop owners. Wagner says outdoor business owners usually know better than anyone what is in their local rivers and lakes because they are out on the water every day.

Growing Partnerships

For the Izaak Walton League, the partnerships Wagner is building with local businesses go beyond our shared interest in policies that support clean water. Wagner is working with breweries, wineries, and outfitters in Iowa and Illinois to host clean water events for the public – working with nearby Izaak Walton League chapters when possible – to educate people about the importance of clean water to their communities and what they can do to protect it. Whether it’s a “pint night,” wine tasting, or float down a local river, these events can forge partner- ships that can benefit the League and our business partners for years to come.

Duane Hovorka, IWLA Agriculture Program Director