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Environmentalists turn to craft beer to make their clean water pitch

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The group Environment Florida put a new face on the fight for clean water – beer.

In order to draw increased attention to water quality issues facing Floridians, the group hosted a clean water forum at 3 Daughters brewery in St. Pete Tuesday night. The evening’s keynote speaker was Jim Leonard, chemist and lab director for the brewery.

We’re talking Breaking Bad beer brewing … minus the Walter White, law-breaking shenanigans.

Leonard pointed out how important water is to brewing beer. For every barrel of beer made, seven barrels of water are used. And that water needs to be just right.

“Hops and yeast can be shipped in, …. the water is the only ingredient that can truly be called local,” Leonard said.

There are all sorts of fancy science words involved here. Germination. Ions. Reverse osmosis. The bottom line is, there’s a lot of treatment that goes into making water just right to brew the best beer.

If the water is too pure, yeast won’t survive. Soft water lends to lighter brews. Hard water is better for ales.

“You really need to monitor the water source,” Leonard said. “We test the water on a regular basis.”

So, that was the attention-grabber. Want good beer? Well, better have good water. Period.

And it worked. More than 100 people crowded the brewery to listen to Leonard present his truncated science of beer demonstration. But that meant they also got to hear from Jennifer Rubiello, field associate for Environment Florida.

“We all depend on fresh, clean water. Unfortunately, way too many of the rivers, lakes and streams that criss-cross our whole entire state are not fully protected from development or pollution,” she said.

Rubiello is trying to rally support for tougher pollution standards for Florida’s waterways by closing loopholes in the Clean Water Act that allow industries like oil, sugar and agriculture to pollute waterways.

The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a new rule last year that would clarify standards under the Clean Water Act, but industries affected by that rule are pushing back.

“They’re lobbying hard to keep dumping in our streams and paving over many of our wetlands,” Rubiello said.

Also on hand was St. Pete City Council member Darden Rice. She urged residents to be vigilant and demand lawmakers resist caving to the well-funded voices of special interests.

Rice likened water to the city’s Pier, which is getting an over-abundance of media attention as the city prepares to select a design to replace the iconic inverted pyramid.

“The Pier is all about the symbol of our relationship to water,” Rice said.

Water quality in Tampa Bay, which the Pier overlooks, has historically struggled. However, past and continued efforts by groups like The Tampa Bay Estuary Program and the Sierra Club have fought hard to implement local fertilizer ordinances and state protections to restore sea grass and increase water quality.

Many previous proposals for a new St. Pete Pier included interactions with the Bay like swimming. Critics pointed to poor water quality as reasons why that was not feasible. These groups hope that argument will continue to wane as water quality continues to improve.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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