Paul Wheeler peeks at a fresh Lookout Stout brew on Wednesday, when operations resumed as normal.

When Paul Wheeler of Haines Brewing Company heard that the borough was reaching record-low levels in its primary water source earlier this month, he knew he’d need to mitigate a salty situation.

On Aug. 12, a mix of drought conditions and a construction error in the pipe that transports 80 percent of Haines’ drinking water from Lily Lake to the treatment plant caused borough staff to turn to its alternate water source, a Wellfield at 1.5 Mile Haines Highway.

“But that water has got a high concentration of saline in it,” Wheeler said. “It’s too high for us here at the brewery to use.”

High levels of salt in water used for brewing beer stifles the chemical reaction that changes starches into sugars, thereby changing the composition and taste of the drink, Wheeler said. More than that, he said-“It tastes like crap!”

Before brewing a batch of beer, Wheeler uses a meter to test the water’s salinity levels and total dissolved solid (TDS) that register other minerals and organic matter.

Normally, Wheeler measures saline levels around 70 parts per million and 110 TDS. Last week, he said those numbers increased nearly tenfold.

“It’s certainly hard water,” borough water department supervisor Dennis Durr said. “We’re aware that it’s hard, but it meets all the standards and it won’t affect health.”

Durr said extra salt and minerals in the water is an “aesthetic thing” meaning it just affects taste, but not health of residents drinking it.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends TDS not exceed 500 parts per million in drinking water, well below the 860 TDS Wheeler measured, but classifies it (among other “contaminants”) as “unenforceable federal guidelines regarding taste, odor, color and certain other non-aesthetic effects of drinking water.” Alaska follows federal standards, meaning it doesn’t enforce water quality contaminants standards that don’t affect a person’s health.

Luckily for Haines’ beer-drinkers, Wheeler said he anticipated a shift based on weather conditions-town has warmed by about 2.3 degrees and received 4.01 fewer inches of rain since January 2019 compared to the same eight months in 2018, according to NOAA data.

The brewery has a long-standing agreement with the borough’s water department, a sign taped up in the Wellfield treatment plant urging employees to call the brewery if they are going to turn on the water source. Aug. 9 was one of those times.

“When I heard the wells were coming on, I filled the tanks as soon as they were empty with water,” Wheeler said.

The brewery stored over 1,000 gallons of water of Lily Lake water before the Wellfield pipes were turned on, enough to make two and a half batches of beer and tide the company over until Lily Lake is reincorporated.

This week, the Haines Borough has received parts to fix the Lily Lake pump, and is transitioning back to its primary water source, Durr said. Wellfield use is decreasing from pumping 175,000 gallons per day to 30,000 gallons a day, and Durr said he hopes it will be turned off completely by the end of the week.

On Wednesday, Wheeler resumed brewing operations. He said water quality was within the brewery’s parameters, though it will likely take another day or two before Wellfield water is completely flushed from the lines.

Local coffeehouses that rely on non-salty water to brew said they’ve noticed a difference these past few weeks, but it hasn’t affected business.

“In terms of coffee, it’s not the best,” Mountain Market owner Mike Borcik said. “It tastes a little salty, a little more minerally. But I notice it’s more drinking it straight that tastes bad.”

Rusty Compass’ Lee Robbinson said none of his customers have reported anything with the quality being off.

Port Chilkoot Distillery hasn’t been affected, but only because they are not brewing whiskey this month.

“We’ve noticed some changes in dissolved solid content in the water, but since we distill everything or filter it through reverse osmosis and we have not been brewing whiskey this past month, it hasn’t affected us as much as the brewery,” owner Heather Shade told the CVN. “If we were making our whiskey right now, we would have to use an extra step to treat the water first, adding more time, energy and cost.”

Durr said the borough is in the planning and design phases of bringing on two additional springs near the Wellfield to increase production in future needs.