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Feds Award Havre For Innovative Wastewater Treatment Method Using Beer Slurry

The federal government recently honored the city of Havre for using an innovative method to clean up the discharge that comes from the Wastewater Treatment Plant into the Milk River. The method involves waste barley mash, or beer slurry, from local breweries.

The new approach means the city will not have to fork over an estimated $1 million for treatment upgrades to meet tightening regulations.

The Environmental Protection Agency presented the award to the city for its idea of dumping yeast slurry, most of which comes from one of Havre’s local breweries, Triple Dog Brewing Co., into the waste as it enters the plant. The superintendent of the wastewater treatment plant, Drue Newfield, said that after the mixture goes through processes in the plant, the water that is discharged into the Milk River is so clean it is “almost drinking water,” meaning the next municipality getting its water from the river will have much cleaner water.

The EPA included Havre’s wastewater system among its list of honorable mentions:

“These improvements have allowed the facility to continuously meet all permit effluent limits and has significantly improved the operability, reliability, and treatment capability of the facility,” said Newfield. The upgrades have greatly improved the quality of wastewater effluent discharged to the Milk River, particularly with respect to nutrient levels and ammonia toxicity.

Advantages for the city include the following:

  • Environmentally, the process leaves the Milk River with fresh, clean water for downstream users.
  • The city will not have to pay for yet another upgrade to the plant since the new plan meets all federal guidelines.
  • It drastically reduces chemicals used in the process.
  • It’s an example of private business working with the government for the common good.

The EPA gave the award to the city for its lengthy project to improve the operation of the 40-year-old plant to meet today’s needs.

Newfield is delighted with the award, but said his staff does all the work and that he merely directs his workers.

The Havre Wasterwater Treatment Plant crew, from left are: Lisa Horinek, Steven Johnson (crouching) with 3-year-old son Tucker, Bryan Frey,and Drue Newfield.

The EPA required the city to upgrade the plant, which in the end cost the city about $12 million, Newfield said. City leaders were anxious to make the needed upgrades, but they had initially hoped grants were available. Instead, rate-payers picked up the cost. Still, he said, Havre rates are among the lowest in Montana.

The upgrade renovated the existing sewage treatment plant and added on to it. The new plant enables the city to use ultralight treatment to treat the sewage. The process is more successful in treating the sewage and far safer to the community than the chlorine method previously used for decades.

The chlorine was effective, but it resulted in more chemicals flowing into the river and posed a potential danger to the city. Yet the city had an evacuation plan in reserve in case the chlorine leaked into the atmosphere. In such a scenario, depending on the wind direction, areas as far south as the HRDC building and as far west as Holiday Village Mall would have had to be evacuated, Newfield said. Fortunately, leaders never had to activate the plan.  

But no sooner was the new plant in operation than EPA imposed tougher regulations on discharges. Using traditional methods, it would have cost the city $1 million, for starters.

That’s when Newfield began talking to Michael Garrity, the owner of Triple Dog Brewing Co., 675 1st St. West.

Applying their knowledge of chemistry, the two wanted to see if the yeast slurry from Triple Dog’s beer waste would actually remove the phosphorus that can cause great problems as it enters the river. 

Other communities had discussed the method, Newfield said, but no one had tried it.

Newfield said he has used slurry from the other two breweries in town –Vizsla and Old Station — but mostly from Triple Dog.

Now, Garrity said he is delighted with how well the project is working. He said the Montana Department of Environmental Quality praises the new method. 

Garrity predicts other communities will try the same process. Indeed, Bigfork is considering it. But, he added, the idea will gain more national attention when larger cities such as Bozeman and Missoula start experimenting with the concept.

“After all,” Garrity said, “they think we’re just Havre.” He said chemical companies wield a lot of power and are probably skeptical because the process excludes their products. In turn, it could result in fewer profits for the chemical companies.

The Bear Paw Development Corporation handled the finances for the city during its expansion, assisted Garrity in opening the brewery and helped with two expansions.

Paul Tuss, Bear Paw Development executive director, said the joint effort between Triple Dog and the city is a rare example of cooperation between business and government.

“Kudos to all involved,” Tuss said.

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Email John Kelleher at (406) 262-7778
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