Courtesy Washington Department of Ecology
Small wineries with ambitions to grow will be stifled by new Washington Department of Ecology regulations on discharging wastewater, said Paul Beveridge, president of the Family Wineries of Washington.
The rules will apply to wineries that produce at least 7,500 cases of wine a year, a “tiny” volume in the wine world, according to Family Wineries, an association of small vintners. Wineries above the threshold will have to buy a permit from Ecology and develop a pollution-control plan.
“It effectively puts a cap on rural wineries,” said Beveridge, owner of the Wilridge wineries in Seattle and Yakima. “I’ll just stay as a small winery.”
Ecology announced the rules May 17, but delayed their effective date until July 1, 2019, to give wineries time to prepare. Ecology estimates that about 100 wineries will need a permit.
Ecology says the rules will protect groundwater from winery wastewater laced with stems, grape skins, wine sediment, cleansers and other potential pollutants. Ecology has not documented a case in which a winery polluted groundwater.
Beveridge said he is conferring with a lawyer about appealing the rules to the Pollution Control Hearings Board.
The rules must be appealed within 30 days. Beveridge said he wants to weigh the chances of prevailing and whether association members are willing to bankroll a challenge.
“We need to get a legal fund together real quick,” he said.
The rules will limit the volume of wastewater that can be used to irrigate. The number of days will be restricted, too. The rules will regulate how wastewater is stored in ponds and used to water dusty roads. Permit holders will have to test wastewater, monitor flows, and train employees to prevent, respond and report spills, among other requirements.
Family Wineries had asked Ecology to exempt wineries that produce fewer than 105,000 cases a year, the threshold for small wineries to take advantage of a federal tax credit.
The group argued that raising the threshold would relieve small wineries of burdensome rules while still regulating large wineries that have more wastewater and are more likely to pollute.
“They (Ecology) did not change anything,” Beveridge said. “Why this expense and monitoring for something you’ve never found a problem with?”
Ecology maintains that it can’t rule out that wineries are polluting groundwater, though it has no evidence. The agency said it wanted to exempt the smallest wineries, but keep the threshold low enough for the rules to protect groundwater.
Some 14 wineries already have individual permits from Ecology to discharge wastewater. Ecology either required a permit because the winery had the potential to pollute, or the winery sought a permit to head off being penalized for discharging pollutants.
The new rules will impose industry-wide standards and bring wineries under a regulatory approach that Ecology applies to other industries.
Wineries will have to decide whether to appeal the terms of the permit without knowing how much one will cost. Ecology will consult with wineries and set fees over the next year, a spokeswoman said.