The Verde River, an important river in the Colorado River system, where the Conservancy is working with local agriculture producers and communities to increase river flows.
Verde River The Verde River, an important river in the Colorado River system, where the Conservancy is working with local agriculture producers and communities to increase river flows. © Rick Triana Photography


Saving Water By Making Beer

Partners Create a New Market for River Conservation


The state’s first malt house will soon open for business, thanks to a collaboration between The Nature Conservancy, local farmers and investors. Sinagua Malt– located in Camp Verde – will produce four tons of malted barley a week for bakeries and breweries while keeping more water in the Verde River

The barley is part of a crop switching program with Hauser and Hauser Farms – the largest commercial grower in the Verde Valley.  

Malting is the process that transforms raw barley into a product that can be used to brew beer and is often used in bread. Sinagua Malt will sell malted barley to local craft and home brewers for production of truly local beer as local breweries. 

“This is a great idea because it creates a new market, helps local farmers, and preserves one of the state’s hardest working rivers,” says Kim Schonek, Verde River Program Director. 

The Verde supplies water for agriculture and recreation throughout the Verde Valley before it enters the Salt River Project’s management area where it is used again for drinking water, industrial use, and agricultural uses for Phoenix. With drought and increased population, the river is at risk – leaving less water for fish, wildlife, recreation and people who rely on the resource. 

“The reason this is happening is a combination of trust and being open to new ideas – there is no one solution to Arizona’s water future but this is a strategy that improves flow in the river while enhancing the local economy” adds Schonek. 

Hauser and Hauser Farms and Speck Farms has convert 144 acres of summer corn for winter barley. Summer corn is a commodity and uses more water when the river is at its lowest point. Barley is a winter crop that doesn’t make as much money as corn, unless there’s a malt house nearby.  

“Water systems are taxed during the summer,” says Kevin Hauser, owner of Hauser and Hauser Farms. “If we can switch crops and spread out our risk so it makes it easier to manage and still make a profit, we’re in great shape. It’s good for the river and farming.” 

Converting just one-tenth of the Verde Valley crops for barley would keep 200 million gallons of water in the river during the summer.  

The Malt House is an Arizona Benefit Corporation. A benefit corporation is unique in that it focuses on achieving its stated benefit, in this case river conservation, over achieving shareholder profits. 

Chip Norton is President of Sinagua Malt and has partnered with the Conservancy and local farmers in successfully establishing Sinagua Malt as both a conservation project and a local business First and foremost, he wants to conserve the Verde River – one of his favorite waterways in the world because of the incredible birds and wildlife. He’s also driven because of the scarcity of western rivers. 

“If it works, I’ll feel good about what I’ve done.,” says Norton, “I’ll have made a difference in something that’s really important to people and nature.” 

Intel Corporation and PepsiCo provided funding for this Project. The venture is an important part of a larger effort to secure water across the Salt and Verde basins called the Salt and Verde Alliance – a collaboration between communities, companies, foundations and others.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 79 countries and territories, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit or follow @nature_press on Twitter.