Stories in Michigan

Clean Water, Great Beer

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A tiered waterfall rushes through a Michigan forest as the green leaves and grass are beginning to transition to the gold of autumn. Rocks, leaves and fallen trees all impact the flow of the water.

Behind every pint poured at one of Michigan's 350+ breweries are the forests and fresh water making it possible.

Clean Water in Michigan As challenges around water continue to grow, the work of The Nature Conservancy in Michigan contributes to Great Lakes learning and knowledge that informs freshwater solutions across the region, and around the world. © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media

Beer has four main ingredients: water, grain, hops and yeast. While water may seem like the simplest of those ingredients, a lot goes into making sure we A) have enough fresh water; B) that water is clean. At the root of this is healthy forests.

Some 40% of the world’s usable water is stored and filtered through forests. From the tree canopy all the way down to root systems, every part of a forest plays a critical role in cleaning and protecting our water supply.

Just over half of Michigan is forested. These 20 million acres play an important role for our wildlife, our workforce and our water. According to the Brewer’s Association, Michigan produces 842,216 barrels of craft beer every year. We need clean water to make it. And without healthy forests, it wouldn’t be possible.

Sliding the image reveals the Answer 90 to 95%. Sliding the the image in the opposite direction reveals more of the colorful Michigan forest along the lake's shore.
On the left is a calm Michigan lake, surrounded by autumn trees. On the right is the question: On average, water makes up what percentage of beer?
Tree-via Question On average, water makes up what percentage of beer? A. 60-65% B. 70-75% C. 80-85% D. 90-95 © Dietrich Ludwig

3 Ways Forests Make Beer Possible

Your cold glass of beer is more than 90% water. In addition to the water in your beverage, water is used to produce other ingredients like grain and hops. This makes it an essential part of the brewing process. Enter forests.  

1. Forests help stop erosion and reduce runoff.

When it rains, water has to go somewhere. Rather than rainfall rushing to the ground, the leaves and branches of a tree slow rainwater’s descent, preventing erosion. Meanwhile, tree roots slowly absorb water back into the ground, reducing the amount of runoff and pollutants that enter our waterways. 

Sliding the image to the left reveals the answer Up to 36,500 gallons. Sliding to the right reveals more of the lake and the colorful Michigan treeline.
On the left is a calm Michigan lake in the Upper Peninsula, surrounded by colorful trees. On the right is the question: How many gallons of water per year can one large tree capture and filter?
Tree-via Question How many gallons of water per year can one large tree capture and filter? A. Up to 25,750 gallons B. Up to 36,500 gallons C. Up to 54,000 gallons D. None; trees filter only air © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media

2. Forested watersheds clean water and recharge groundwater.

After tree canopies slow rainfall and the roots help the ground absorb the water, nutrients are filtered out. The water then flows into underground aquifers which provide an important source for clean water. At least 35% of the drinking water in the United States is supplied by groundwater. 

Sliding the image to the left reveals the answer: More than half. Sliding the image to the right uncovers more of the brightly colored Michigan forest.
Image on the left of a waterfall rushing down a rock wall in a Michigan forest as the trees change color. On the right is the question: How much of U.S. drinking water originates from forests?
Tree-via Question How much of U.S. drinking water originates from forests? A. One quarter B. One third C. One half D. More than half © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media

3. Tree canopies of large forests influence rainfall patterns.

As you recline under a canopy on your favorite patio, tree canopies are hard at work. A tree's foliage releases water vapor into the atmosphere. This helps produce something known as "rivers in the sky" which are responsible for rainfall both locally and thousands of miles away. 

Sliding the image to the left reveals the answer: Two mature trees. Sliding the image to the right reveals more dazzling autumn foliage.
Image on the left of a dense area of trees in Michigan. On the right is the question: How many mature trees are needed to provide enough oxygen for one person to breathe over the course of a year?
Tree-via Question How many mature trees are needed to provide enough oxygen for one person to breathe over the course of a year? © Ellie Scholtz/TNC
Grassy shoreline along Big Trout Lake at TNC's Carl A. Gerstacker Nature Preserve.
Carl A. Gerstacker Nature Preserve at Dudley
This audio walking tour has 2 walking options, each taking an out-and-back journey that is 2 miles in total with a few small hills and rises.
Echo Lake surrounded by tall green trees under a blue, cloud-filled sky.
Echo Lake Nature Preserve
This tour takes you on a 1-hour round-trip journey to the peninsula overlook. You can add in some steeper hiking to an overlook with stunning views of forestland and Lake Superior.
Landscape view of water and green hills at Helmut and Candis Stern Preserve.
Helmut and Candis Stern Preserve
About 6.5 miles round trip, this tour will take you to the very top of Mt. Baldy and back, so allow at least 3 hours for your visit.
Ancient bedrock sits along a tree-and-sand-lined shoreline.
Mary Macdonald Preserve at Horseshoe Harbor
If you are on location, you can begin your tour at the trailhead across the two-track dirt road from the parking lot, walking 5-10 minutes toward the lake shoreline.

For love of Forests and Fresh Water

Brewers Support Oktoberforest

Great Lakes Watershed The entire state of Michigan lies within a Great Lake watershed, so maintaining healthy forests creates a thriving ecosystem. Thank you to all the brewers participating in Oktoberforest this year!

We're Root-ing for Michigan Forests

So, we need clean water. Sound simple? Not so fast. The key here is that we need healthy forests to filter our water. Unfortunately, the health of Michigan’s forests has been challenged by a complex history of ownership and intensive use, as well as encroaching pests and disease.  

That's why The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is demonstrating sustainable, data-driven forest management practices—and encouraging others to use them as well. Together, we can ensure Michigan’s forests remain healthy, resilient and productive for generations to come.