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Unlikely advocates: How local breweries are leading in Delaware River Watershed conservation efforts
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Unlikely advocates: How local breweries are leading in Delaware River Watershed conservation efforts

Philly’s a beer town. Clean water means cleaner (and tastier) beer for you.

Heroes wear capes. Sometimes, they drink beer. 

Two years ago,  nearly 20 breweries from across the Greater Philadelphia Region, sent a joint letter to Congress in efforts to raise funding to ensure the protection of the Delaware River Watershed. 

(Apt named), Brewers of the Delaware River Association along with the National Audubon Society, submitted a proposal in January 2019 to focus support on funding the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program , which guarantees safe water responsible in  over $21 billion annually in various goods and services, including for area breweries, according to the Audubon Society

What strides in both funding and advocacy have been made since this letter was presented to Congress? Furthermore, how did the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic fallout that followed hinder these efforts?

Clean water from the Delaware is the key to survival for many Philly breweries

Following the push from the brewer collective, funding for the Watershed increased by roughly $3 million to just over $9 million for both the restoration program and for other conservation efforts, according to Beth Brown, who serves as director of the Delaware River Watershed Program for the Audubon Society. This year, collaborative efforts are seeking $10 million for ongoing maintenance in 2021. But even if funding remains flat at just over $9 million, the continued efforts of this collaboration hasn’t gone unnoticed. 

“We’re really a small drop in the federal budget compared to some of the larger watershed regions, like the Chesapeake or the Great Lakes and the large funding those programs receive. But we’re really trying to do groundbreaking, innovative, transformational work,” Brown said. “The efforts of these breweries that have come together to really advocate for how this waterway is not only important for their field but for our part of the country is just remarkable.”

Why brewers champion clean water efforts

Concern for the Watershed  increased after sections of the Central Watershed (i.e. the main section that affects Philadelphia, Camden and Wilmington) experienced a combination of stormwater runoff and even sewage overflow into the Delaware, leading to degraded water quality. 

“Anything we can do to advocate for cleaner water, we will.”

– Nancy Barton, owner, Philadelphia Brewing Company

Continued mismanagement could potentially disrupt supply for breweries like Kensington’s Philadelphia Brewing Company and 2SP Brewing in Delaware County. Both members of the Delaware River Brewer’s initiative are also integral parts of Pennsylvania’s overall beer industry. “Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pennsylvania breweries contributed a combined $12 billion in annual revenue to the state and accounted for roughly $3.7 billion annually in wages and benefits.

“The better the water, the better we are as a brewery,” said Nancy Barton, owner of Philadelphia Brewing Company. “Having a collective care not just about the waterways here in Philadelphia but all along the watershed is important. Anything we can do to advocate for cleaner water, we will.”

Brewers advocate for clean water in 2020, despite state budget cuts 

Earlier this year, Philadelphia Brewing Company was one of six Pennsylvania-based breweries that wrote letters urging state politicians in Harrisburg to sustain funding for conservation of the watershed, despite dire state budget constraints caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Barton added that mismanagement of its supply of water could be detrimental to Philadelphia Brewing Company’s operations. For starters, breweries like hers are charged an industrial surcharge each month by the Philadelphia Water Department, who PBC relies on to deliver clean drinking water for production. With much of that water being supplied by the mighty Delaware, any disruption could prove costly. 

“Flat out, mismanagement means more money,” Barton continued. “It might mean [the purchase of] new equipment, new filtration and new charges all which could affect our bottom line across so many facets. I think people should think more about their water and where it comes from. I like that we [at Philadelphia Brewing Company] are a part of a collective really doing some meaningful work when it comes to conservation.” 

According to the Audubon Society, one of the largest advocacy groups in the protection of the Delaware River Watershed, the tributary provides clean drinking water for more than 15 million people across parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and New York and is home to scores of wildlife, including over 400 species of birds who use the Delaware along its migration path. 

“While 2020 has been really tricky for our brewing partners and we wanted to be respectful and supportive at a time when asking them for support is hard, we really haven’t had to do too much [asking],” Brown said. “In 2020, American Rivers awarded the Delaware River as its River of the Year. I think that speaks to the level of enthusiasm and commitment folks like those involved with this partnership have in advocating for the river and keeping it as a place so many are able to enjoy.”

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Kerith Gabriel
Kerith Gabriel started out as a sports writer over a decade ago for the Philadelphia Daily News. He left sports to focus on issues that deeply affect Philadelphians but really, he just loves telling a good story, regardless of genre. When he’s not prowling for a story, you can most likely find him playing soccer at Penn Park, or doing the dad thing around town. Email him at kerith.a.gabriel@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter via @sprtswtr. View all posts by Kerith Gabriel

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