A Guide to What’s in Your Water

By Rich Gellert

Some cultivators are lucky enough to enjoy a clean and reliable water source that’s always readily available. Unfortunately, that’s increasingly not the case across the country. Hormones, pharmaceuticals, and all kinds of toxic materials are making their way into the national water supply. In drought-stricken areas like Los Angeles and San Francisco, “toilet to tap” reclamation procedures are now in place, essentially straining solids, dosing with chlorine, then pushing the water back into the public drinking supply. Sound gross? Well, the situation with water in America is rapidly changing. If you wouldn’t drink the tap water at your house or cultivation facility, why would you give that same water to your plants? One of the worst mistakes a cultivator can make is to invest money into a garden, but gloss over the water supply quality, perhaps the most important resource to having a genuinely healthy end-product. Even if you believe your geographic area has “good” water, not investigating the quality and serving your plants less than optimal water could choke their potential, and undermine an otherwise perfectly engineered operation. The TDS (total dissolved solids) in any type of untreated water varies for several reasons, and the relatively small investment into a water filtration system is a big step towards a consistent and reliable ecosystem.

Many cultivators use purified water to completely control the content of their nutrient formulas for each plant strain grown, making sure they properly and consistently dial in the amounts of each mineral vital to healthy plant growth. Getting a water test to determine source water quality helps cultivators to decide whether or not using a water treatment system would benefit their operation. Municipalities provide free water reports, though water quality fluctuates greatly throughout an area, over the seasons, and can even vary from site to site. A key indicator of water quality for plants is total hardness as expressed in the TDS of calcium and magnesium or in grains per gallon (gpg). With too much hardness, nutrient formulas can be thrown out of balance and plant deficiencies and lockouts quickly become a major problem. Any water source with over 50 ppm of TDS of hardness should be purified. 50 ppm of hardness translates to 3 Grains per Gallon and is considered soft water, which few facilities have straight from the tap.

Cultivators using microorganisms such as beneficial bacteria, fungi, nematodes, mycorrhizae, and trichoderma must have chlorine and chloramine-free water in order for those helpful microbes to survive and flourish. All municipal water contains chlorine and/or chloramines as they are both powerful biocides, meaning they are designed to kill all living organisms. Letting city water sit out and bubble overnight may get rid of chlorine, but it’s not effective to remove chloramines or other contaminants. Water from well or spring sources is often high in minerals such as calcium, magnesium, sulfur, and iron. Giving water with too high of levels of these minerals to heavy-feeding plants will contribute to nutrient lockout and lead to deficiencies. The following table shows the most common contaminants in water, their sources, and what harmful effects they can have on plants. As one can see, many dissolved minerals in untreated source water have the potential to damage crops.

Using reverse osmosis to filter source water is the single most efficient, economical, and reliable way to ensure the removal of 98%+ of all contaminants mentioned above. As reverse osmosis technology continues to advance, as well as new regulations go online, several simplified water filtration solutions for commercial and hobby growers are now available. These systems ensure consistency and reliability of water input and are critical to the professional grower. Already have access to excellent source water? Consider yourself lucky. The rest of the country is having to deal with increasingly complex and sometimes dangerous water contamination issues as seen in areas like Flint, Michigan and Corpus Christi, Texas. Remember, if it’s not healthy for humans, it’s probably not healthy for plants.

 photo by liveoncelivewild.com

Trade Show Events 2017

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Good Beer Starts with Good Water

Beer Is Mostly Water, Why Not Enhance the Main Ingredient?

“Do you want to try the lager?” Hagen’s sister, Adrianne, asked from behind the taproom bar. Lager is not usually my go-to, but I could not turn down a friendly pour.

“Sure,” I said. 

She set a full stein on the bar and I took a sip. There was something different about it.  The smoothness, the foam, the aftertaste. Usually when I think of lager I think of Bud Light, Coors, or some other mass-produced beer. My dive into the craft brewery scene in the past five years has shifted my palate over to specialty ales. While many craft breweries offer lager, usually I shoot for hefeweisen, stout, or saison. Although a lager, the one from Dovetail Brewery has something special.

I arrived around 10:45am on a Saturday to tour Dovetail Brewery. Hagen, the owner, took us through his entire brewery to taste, touch, and smell each element that goes into creating his beer. First, the tour attendees and I had a full lager in the taproom. We then traveled into the brewery where Dovetail’s Hyper-Logic system sits. In front of the system was a whiskey barrel and pitchers of… water. 

Photo of Dovetail’s Hyper-Logic Filtration System with Water Samples

I went on this tour incognito, not telling anyone I’m from HydroLogic, the company that provided his water treatment system which stood behind the barrel topped with water pitchers. Hagen integrates water tasting into every single brewery tour. We started with a sample of Chicago tap water, swooshing around the taste of chlorine in our mouths. We then tried his carbon filtered water - this tastes a lot like water from a Brita filter (carbon filters remove chlorine from tap water). Then we tried the water Hagen uses to brew his lager. He uses a Hyper-Logic commercial filtration system to filter and re-mineralize this water. Surprised by its soft aftertaste and texture, people on the tour mentioned the difference and could tell how this water translates into the same aftertaste and texture of Hagen’s lager.

After that portion of the tour we moved over to tasting two varieties of toasted barley and smelled the hops that Hagen imports from Germany. We had two more beers on the tour as well, giving us a well-rounded hands-on experience. 

After the tour I had a few questions for Hagen to learn more about his background in brewing and overall satisfaction with his Hyper-Logic water filtration system. This is what he had to say:

What started your passion for brewing craft beer, and what is your educational background in the brewing industry?

I always liked good beer. My parents are both German immigrants, so beer drinking was a normal thing around my house. I never had crappy beer when I was-- let's say before 21. The first beer I ever bought legally was Pilsner Urquell which is made with very, very soft water. I always loved lager beers. I always drank those beers but, brewing wise, I didn’t start as a brewer. My mum’s family comes from a wine making region. She’s ethnic German from what’s today Croatia. I started as a home winemaker and did that for about ten years, but eventually got tired of the poor-quality grapes I could get so I simultaneously got into Lambic style beers and I thought I could try brewing Lambic. Lambic is between the beer and wine world - it’s like beer made like wine.  So, for me, it was a natural progression. 

Wine is made in the vineyard and beer is made in the brew house and the fermenters, and beer is much more complicated to make. I steered on this path that eventually ended up with me going to beer school. I went through the Siebel and Doemen’s WBA Masters program at the World Brewing Academy. I took is piece by piece, starting here in Chicago, and then ended up in Munich, where my partner Bill and I met in one of the brewing classes.

What made you decide to go to brewing school?

At some point when I was transitioning to brewing, I thought “alright, if I had to start wine making again, and if I were a ten-years-younger me, what advice would I give myself?  How would I start?” I decided that I would start trying to take formal classes. When I found out about Siebel, I thought, “Well, if I were living in California, there’s no question that I would go to UCE Davis” – for an analogy. Since I was living here in Chicago, I went to Siebel.

I started out taking a sensory analysis course. My point of view back then was that, unless you can taste or tell the difference between what is good and what is bad from a sensory perspective, you can’t know the difference or become a better brewer.

I was an engineer for 20 years designing a bunch of different things. My first job was in California doing structural analysis of offshore structures. I then switched to mechanical engineering and designed a few different things, train seats of all things. I spent a lot of time designing industrial cleaning equipment and Zamboni-type ride on machines. I then worked at Bosch Power Tools for 11 years. 

In doing product design, I figured out that the best ideas are well accepted by your customer. Bill and I want the beer we brew to be delicious and open new flavor experiences to people who have only been exposed to macro brews and that are ready to transition into drinking craft beer. We like to drink strange beers too but this is also a business, so we want to make beer that’s delicious to many people.

When we make lager, we think about what it is that makes Americans come back from Germany and say “oh, man the beer over there was so good. I don’t know what it was about it. I miss it.”

106-year-old copper fermenting vessel that Hagen restored from the world’s oldest brewery, Weihenstephaner, in Germany
 

Does that lead into how you came up with the concept for Dovetail?

Yes, the beer world is big. There are many, many different styles of beer. Although Bill and I both like IPAs, we felt like craft beer was becoming this IPA-driven culture. In our education, we learned about many different styles of beer and what set them apart from each other. We decided to go in a different direction. It was kind of counter-intuitive, because one of our flagship beers is a lager, and lager makes up 90% of the beer market. However, we felt that the lagers most people are exposed to are not the lagers that we love, that there’s a world of lager outside of what was being produced. Lager must be produced in a very specific way to get that to that very delicious state.

Knowing how competitive the food and drink scene is in Chicago, what gave you and Bill the inspiration to open a craft brewery in this area?

We’re both from Chicago and we wanted to do something close to home. Although there are a lot of craft breweries in Chicago right now, we're not nearly at a saturation point.  When we started working on this project, we weren't close to it, but we’re closer all the time. However, we’re confident that we‘re doing something different enough that it will be appreciated.

Is that why soft water is so important during your brewing process?

Chicago has some of the best water in the world because we have an enormous source of fresh water. However, we feel that because water makes up anywhere from 90-95% of beer it has a major effect on the end quality of the beer. In the case of our lager we wanted it to be nice and soft - like the beers of the Czech Republic. To do that, we had to make water that matched the profile of one of our favorite brewing cities in the world, and that’s Pilsen in the Czech Republic. We learned about various methods of water treatment in brewing school. Chicago water is a great brewing water for ales. However, to brew our lager we needed our water to match the profile of the water of Pilsen -  with very light minerals and very low TDS.

When did you start your search for a system that does water profile matching and how did you find HydroLogic?

The search for a filtration system began after beer school and during the development process of the brewery laying out our initial costs. My partner Bill and I were familiar with HydroLogic because we were home brewers and we knew the systems you guys sold through home brew shops. We did a years' worth of pilot brewing at home twice a week. As we planned our pilot brews, I thought about how to do water preparation at the pilot level of the home brewing level, so we found the HydroLogic Systems Stealth RO.

We then went through the HydroLogic website and saw that you had a commercial site and that the Hyper-Logic had just come out. We knew from our schooling that the reject rates for RO systems are usually horrible – around four parts wastewater to one part product water. Reading about the Hyper-Logic RO’s one part waste to four parts product was almost too good to be true. We thought, “Wait a minute, these guys are doing three to four parts product for one part waste.” Even though we’re next to a large source of fresh water, we’re still concerned about waste. That’s how we first reached out to HydroLogic.

Was it easy to work with HydroLogic from there on out?

Yes, very easy. You're that group that's at the top of our sub-supplier list. I shared my calculations with you and we had a little bit of back and forth designing out the skid. Your estimates were where we ended up. Your technical team is very knowledgeable and always available to answer any questions. You gave us exactly what you said you were going to give us. There were a couple of problems along the way that your company corrected immediately. Our entire experience with HydroLogic was everything you could ask for in a good supplier. We recommend HydroLogic to other people all the time.

Did you find any other companies that offer water profile matching for breweries?

We did search, but honestly I'd have to say that you guys were so easy to work with and the price of the system was right on the budget that we didn’t look much farther. We didn’t have to. I trusted that we were going to get what you said we were going to get. We also were using your smaller system, and our experience with that system was great.

How has using the chem injectors we provided changed your brewing process or made it easier?

It's a “set and forget it” system. I know what the targets are – I can even see it. From my calculations, I know that I need to add an additional 18 PPM of calcium and 14 of magnesium sulfate. When I replenish the chem injectors, I just run the system.  I make sure everything is running and I don't have to worry about it again until I replenish again.  That can be weeks.

Are you satisfied with how your HyperLogic system’s performance?

Absolutely, I think it takes our beer to another level and people notice it.

Upstairs in the brewery where Hagen barrel-ages beer in reused whiskey barrels.

How do people respond to the water tasting portion of your brewery tour?

In the tap room, people taste the beer and they say, "Oh, yeah, this beer is-- there's something about it. It's great." When I take people on a tour, we do a water tasting where we compare Chicago tap water to carbon-filtered Chicago water to our Pilsen simulation. We mix some carbon filtered water in, and then we bring up the calcium, the chloride, and the sulfate to the levels where we want it to be to as closely as possible to match Pilsen. We can't match it exactly but this was an easy way to do it. Chicago city water is high in bicarbonate, so we’re higher in bicarbonate than Pilsen, but it’s still very soft and produces a very pleasant lager. When we do the tasting of the three waters people find it interesting. Usually the reaction I get is: "I've never tasted water on a brewery tour before." People have written reviews about the tour and they say things like, “Believe it or not, tasting water is the most interesting part of the tour.”

Does the water tasting portion of your tour set Dovetail apart from other breweries in the US?

Yes - you go on brewery tours; you just taste the beer; you don't taste the water. It’s unique, because water is 95% of beer.

For being a new brewery in Chicago, you have a lot of great reviews.  Do you feel like using our water treatment system has improved the overall quality and taste of your beer at Dovetail?

There's no question. The lager is our number one selling beer and that’s the beer where we use this water. Lagers are popular - that's what these macro breweries are making.  We use this water for any beer that's fermented right now with lager yeast. So even a dark beer, like a Rauchbier or our Holiday Bock – any lager we brew is made with the soft water your system creates.

What are your next steps for your brewery?

Our next steps are to get in more accounts. We’d love to be in every bar within two miles of this place – and a little farther also. We’re in about 50 accounts right now and we’d like to get to 100 to 150 within a short amount of time.

Do you have any of those accounts do the water tasting themselves?

We do industry open house events and the water tasting will be part of all the tours that we give. 

Is the water tasting an integral part of every single tour?

It is essential. The water tasting teaches people about beer – in a funny way, you know. On the tour, we like to have people taste all the elements and then we put it back together by drinking the beer. It’s a very good experience. A “taste-on” experience.

Do you have expansion plans?

We built the brewery to grow to the right size. But if it gets to the point where the Hyper-Logic system is not putting out enough water for us, we would expand the system. It’s easily expandable – you don’t have to buy another system. 

With the lager, we’re trying to create an interesting beer that speaks for itself. One of my favorite things is when somebody comes to the tap room and we tell them, “So, we have lager, this beer, and this beer” and they say “I’ll just have a lager.” I give them the lager and they say “Oh yeah, this is different.” It’s great that the Hyper-Logic can enhance that experience for our clients.

Dovetail Hyper-Logic Brewery Skid – We Provided All Filtration and Re-Mineralization Equipment on a Pre-Plumbed Turnkey Skid

Hagen and Bill carefully engineer their beer to ensure each one looks, tastes, and feels incredible on the palate. Their careful fine-tuning of each component translates into their brews, making each one a piece of art. Beer is 90 to 95% water, why not enhance the main ingredient?

Condensate Water for Irrigation: Worth the Risk?

With the explosion of opportunities for indoor and greenhouse hydroponic facilities, the focus on efficiency becomes increasingly important. Sustainability is the feature that will ensure that your indoor or greenhouse grow stays viable and profitable for years to come, which is why it’s important to have progressive practices in place as early as possible. Water is a key resource that can be dramatically conserved and optimized when it’s properly managed, so developing a plan is critical for the overall success of your grow.

As regulation for commercial cultivation operations and competition increases, growers are becoming more sophisticated by sharpening their horticultural skills and refining the technology in their facilities. Grow room design is becoming more data and science driven. Many indoor cultivators are opting for sealed rooms and closed loop systems with every input stringently monitored and criticized including all water resources.

Water sources for both indoor and greenhouse grows are typically provided either by the city or from well water, and the quality of either type of water can vary dramatically. Most cases require a water treatment plan. In the majority of large scale commercial hydroponic facilities, dehumidification and air conditioning are an absolute necessity. Both of these systems have a constant flow of condensate water which is normally lost down the drain as waste water. In an effort to conserve water, many growers consider using this water for agriculture. This makes a lot of sense as the water, in theory, is distilled from the air and should be relatively clean.  In order to determine the true viability of this water source, it’s important to analyze its quality and the HVAC system that is producing it.

Not all climate control equipment is built with the same materials, which means that the condensate water quality can vary depending on the individual system. Time is also a factor, as the internal parts age and collect dirt and bacteria and affect the water quality in different ways.

Suspended Solids

Dust and other suspended solids that collect inside air handlers, dehumidifiers, and condensate lines accumulates in condensate water, becoming a major issue. This debris will vary with the age and make of the climate control system, and how clean or dirty the indoor grow area is, but it is necessary to be aware of these contaminants and take measures to reduce them.

Comparison of a new and used sediment filter from a condensate water filter

Chemical Quality

Taking a look at the quality of the water in terms of minerals is a bit complicated. Upon testing water with a traditional TDS meter, you will hopefully notice that the discharge from the unit reads very low in TDS (ppm). This makes sense, as this is distilled water vapor from the air. However, just because the TDS meter reads 0 ppm does not mean that there are no minerals or harmful substances in the water. The internal coils in air handlers, dehumidifiers and other mechanisms contain heavy metals that will leach into the condensate water. Some of these specific metals are considered harmful in very low quantities. The EPA has limits for certain contaminants. Lead, for example, has a toxicity rate of 0.015 ppm and would be undetectable by a TDS meter yet still poses a risk. Copper has a maximum allowable level of 1.0 ppm and zinc is 5.0 ppm. These levels may seem low but they can be harmful nonetheless. Although heavy metals like this would likely not have immediate effects on most crops, it can bio-accumulate in the mass of the plant material or in the growing media which would certainly affect overall quality. Those wanting to grow fully organic and as pure a crop as possible, these heavy metals should be totally absent in the irrigation water.

pH Levels

Another consideration is the pH of the condensate water. Typically, the overall mineral content is very low and therefore the water tends to absorb atmospheric CO2 making the water very acidic. The pH level can test below 5.0 points. This means that the water is corrosive and will absorb metals and other contaminants depending on what it comes in contact with in the facility. Adding a buffer and re-mineralizing the water will resolve the pH issue.

Biological Contaminants

Biosecurity in high tech grows is also another major issue when it comes to using condensate water. As any experienced grower knows, harmful pathogens can become a huge issue and take lots of effort to track down and ultimately control. Precautions should be taken to ensure that pathogens are not introduced into condensate water destined for reuse by plants. The internal coils and other components of air conditioning and dehumidifier systems are ideal environments to harbor numerous species of bacteria. Observing untreated water in condensate storage tanks, you will see slime and other species take hold and grow. Not all bacteria is harmful, but this type of environment acts as a breeding ground for harmful species. Legionella is an airborne bacteria responsible for outbreaks among humans and has been traced to condensate water. Treating this water involves the use of ultraviolet sterilization or chlorination.

Dirty condensate line

Using Condensate Runoff from A/C and Dehumidifier Units for Agriculture

Due to the potentially harmful qualities of condensate water as outlined above, the cost of treating this water is minimal compared to the potential damage caused by using raw condensate water. To protect the longevity and safety of your indoor or greenhouse grow operation, it makes sense to treat the water for each of these problems in order to prevent a much larger problem later. There are turnkey solutions available to the modern grower that can address all of the issues associated with untreated condensate water. These solutions offer a relatively economical insurance policy to protect your valuable investment.

HydroLogic has a four stage filtration solution for condensate purification called the ARCS - Check it out here

Hydro Filter Flow Rate Testing: How do we stack up?

One of the hallmarks of a successful company is to "under promise, and over deliver". We take that philosophy seriously, which not only makes customers very happy with our performance, but also demonstrates the clear difference between our products and anyone else's. Grozine put one of our best sellers to task against a competitor's unit, rated at a substantially higher GPD. The results were, well, you should see for yourself! Head on over to Grozine and check it out. EVO1000vsIdealH201200

Hello! (again)

As you may have noticed, we’ve (gasp!) redesigned Hydro-Logic Purification Systems website.  We did this for a couple of reasons, all of which we hope will translate into our customers having a better, easier and more productive online experience with us. One of the most helpful features on our new site is we will soon be selling discontinued or “impossible to get anywhere else” parts, direct to you via shopping cart. We offer this service to our many customers out there who still have bulletproof “elderly” systems, cranking away. If it ain’t broke, don’t replace it!

Another addition to the new site is, well, what you are reading right now…a blog! I’ll be chiming in with regular updates, relevant industry news and event schedules so you never have to miss a thing. All of this will be tied into our Facebook profile so be sure to “like” us if you haven’t already. On that note, did you know we have a Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube channel as well? No one can accuse us of being “anti-social”, that’s for sure.

In case you are new to us, Hydro-Logic Purification Systems specializes in a wide range of professional quality water purification products designed for many uses, including gardening and hydroponics, residential, aquarium, and commercial applications. We are known world-wide as providers of the most efficient, rock-solid water purifiers in the industry, saving you time and money. From a backyard gardener to a professional coffee roaster, our customers appreciate our cutting-edge technology, unbeatable efficiency, simple set-up, affordable pricing and of course, amazing results. 

And if you are one of the 100k+ dedicated HydroLogic customers, welcome back, it's good to see you again.