OPINION: Clean water rules, important for beer and the economy
As every beer drinker knows, pure water is a key ingredient in beer. It’s also key to most businesses, and as illustrated by our local history, failure to protect clean water can hurt many businesses — and the regional economy.
In the early 19th Century, Brooklyn became an important center for brewing because German immigrants were drawn to the crystal clear spring water of the Brooklyn-Queens aquifer. By 1898, there were 45 breweries in Brooklyn.
That was the year Brooklyn became part of New York City. Some lament this as “The Great Mistake.” But in fact, Brooklyn had no choice, and water was part of the reason. Back then, Brooklyn was an industrial powerhouse, home to manufacturers of air conditioners, paints, iron and steel products, glass, pharmaceuticals, soda, clothing, oil, kerosene and gas, and just about every product demanded by a growing city.
There was little government regulation of these industries. The Brooklyn-Queens aquifer had become polluted and the industries, including the breweries, needed a source of clean water. (Today, we are paying for that era with the costly clean-ups of many parts of Brooklyn and Queens — the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek are examples.)
New York City had tapped into the vast water sources of the Delaware River Basin and the Catskill Mountains — the tremendous watershed that connects Upstate New York, Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic states to the Chesapeake Bay. For all the storied municipal corruption in New York City in the 19th Century, it is amazing that the city leaders had the vision to create the Croton Aqueduct and the remarkable water system that makes the city famous for its water today.
Sadly, this new source of clean water wasn’t enough to save New York City breweries, which went the way of the dinosaurs because national brewers in the Midwest were able to make beer cheaper and ship it across the country. The last two New York City breweries, Schaefer and Rheingold, closed in 1976.
But the craft brewing revolution — a return to locally produced beer with a rainbow of flavors and styles — has brought brewing back to New York City. Today there are 23 small brewing companies in the city. All rely on that miraculous, largely invisible New York City water system.
My company celebrated its 25 anniversary in 2013. We will make close to 100,000 barrels of beer in the city this year. We will brew 200,000 barrels in a brewery in Utica, NY. We are considering building a new brewery in Staten Island to support the rapid growth of our exports. Staten Island affords us proximity to the New York-New Jersey port and rail service.
Our forefathers didn’t take good care of their water sources. We need to make sure we learn from their mistakes, or else we may not make it another 25 years. We recognize just how important clean water is to our business, and we’re not alone. Recent polling commissioned by the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) shows just how unified the small business community is on this.
The highlight of the poll: 71 percent of small business owners say that protecting clean water is necessary to ensure economic growth. Another key finding: Two-thirds were worried that water pollution could impact their businesses in the future.
But a third finding is even more important, because it shows overwhelming support for a proposed rule from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) called “Waters of the US.” The proposed rule would protect upstream waters that flow after a rain or only during certain seasons. It is a critical clarification to existing rules, but is opposed by some lobby groups who say they represent business interests. The poll found however that 80 percent of small businesses support exactly the same protections as in the proposed rule.
We agree, and that’s why we endorse the EPA’s efforts.
Clean water is a small business issue. This poll proves that, and our past failures prove why we need the government to protect it.
—Courtesy of American Forum
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