Courtesy of Kevin Cruff, Chateau Ste. Michelle
Wineries wash bottles, barrels and tanks, and the water picks up cleansers, stems and dregs and the potential to pollute, according to the Washington Department of Ecology, which will make some winemakers get a permit to irrigate with wastewater.
Ecology will take comments on the proposal until Feb. 14. The permit will also regulate sending wastewater into sewer and septic systems. The rules will apply to wineries that produce more than 17,835 gallons a year, about one-fifth of the state’s more than 900 winemakers.
Washington Wine Institute Executive Director Josh McDonald said Monday that the trade group hopes Ecology will raise the threshold. “Our position in trying to work with Ecology has been to come as close to doing no harm as possible,” he said.
The rules have been several years in the making. Ecology expects to finalize them and start issuing permits next summer. Some large wineries already have wastewater permits, but for the first time the entire industry will be put under uniform requirements. Ecology uses the same regulatory approach to control wastewaster from several other industries, including fruit packers.
“What we hope for is that under the permit, wineries will be able to comply with it without extraordinary actions,” Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers lobbyist Mike Schwisow said.
Wineries have not been a “major source” of groundwater pollution, according to an Ecology fact sheet. The agency cites a Michigan food processor that contaminated groundwater by irrigating as a reason for the new rules.
Ecology says winery wastewater picks up organic material and is typically acidic. Groundwater could be polluted if wineries over-irrigate with untreated wastewater, septic tanks fail or the volume discharged overwhelms treatment plants.
Wineries that come under the regulations will have to submit a pollution-prevention plan.
Wineries generate wastewater primarily by cleaning and rinsing equipment to prevent wine from being contaminated. A typical winery uses 6 gallons of water for every gallon of wine produced, according to Ecology.
McDonald said the wine institute has been asking from the beginning whether wineries are polluting groundwater. He said wineries made some progress in negotiating the terms of the permit, but the cost and complexity remain concerns. “It’s still 80 pages long and still fairly complicated to understand,” he said.
An Ecology spokeswoman said Tuesday there have been cases of wineries discharging wastewater high in pH and discharging enough wastewater to overwhelm treatment plants.
In a financial analysis, Ecology estimates that building a small lagoon to hold wastewater would cost $102,000, while a large lagoon would cost $315,000.
As a nod to the financial burden of following the rules, Ecology exempted hundreds of small winemakers.
The top 100 winemakers, led by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, account for 98 percent of the state’s output, according to Ecology.
Some large wineries also could be exempt.
Wineries that discharge directly to one of 20 sewer plants in the state that Ecology deems sufficiently equipped to handle industrial waste won’t need a permit. Wineries with lagoons that are double-lined with synthetic material and equipped with leak-detection systems also would be exempted, as would wineries that trucked wastewater to treatment plants.