Beer Plant Protects River

By: Erin Tate
By: Erin Tate

From its Colorado brewery to these conveyor belts, the Coors company fills, labels, boxes and ships millions of barrels of beer a year.

At the Coors packaging plant in Elkton, 580,000 gallons of beer are produced each day. And after that process, Coors treats about 750,000 gallons of waste water and sends it back into the Shenandoah River. It's arguably cleaner than the river itself.

The plant sits close to the South Fork at Island Ford. A group of river rafters is on an environmental exploration. They're learning about top-notch waste water treatment.

Wildlife author Chris Bolgiano was surprised by the complexity of the Coors facility. "I guess I hadn't realized how much waste there was to the beer process," she said.

Each day, Coors takes leftover beer, mixes it with organic chemicals and turns it into clean, river-bound water.

"Our goal is to have the least impact on the environment we work in here," says Wastewater Treatment Plant Manager Jim Burke.

He says the Elkton Coors brewery is the first to use bacteria to treat waste. The biological break-down begins in a giant vat.

"That tank is considerably larger than a football field, it's 28 feet deep and it holds 12 million gallons of water," Burke explains.

The natural process emits methane gas which Coors is actually re-using to heat its boilers. What's left is treated a second time, then sent through a chlorine wash.

"It cost a little bit more money and takes a little more time but we think it is indeed the best thing for the river," says Burkey.

And since water is the main ingredient in beer, it's the best thing for the brew, too.

Coors is a leading member of the Pure Water Forum that's sponsoring the Shenandoah Sojourn and a Watershed Round Table this weekend. For more information, log on to

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