Washington wine fees

Grapes grow in a vineyard in Walla Walla, Wash. The Washington Department of Ecology will impose new fees on some wineries to regulate wastewater.

More than 150 Washington wineries will pay new fees and presumably have higher operating costs because the state Department of Ecology says that while they have not polluted groundwater, they could.

Large and mid-sized wineries will need a wastewater-discharge permit similar to those required of manufacturers. Ecology finalized the rules last year, but didn’t set fees until June 26. The fees go into effect July 27.

Family Wineries of Washington President Paul Beveridge said Friday that the organization couldn’t pull together the money to appeal the rules, but advised wineries to consider taking on Ecology individually.

“Just because we couldn’t challenge the regulations doesn’t mean you can’t challenge the specifics to your winery,” he said. “This is really an overstretch. ... They have not shown an impact to the waters of the state.”

The rules will apply to wineries that make at least 17,835 gallons of wine or juice a year. Regulations will limit irrigating with water recycled after cleaning bottles, barrels, tanks and other equipment. The rules also regulate storage ponds and watering dusty roads.

Winery wastewater laced with cleaning chemicals and organic matter could pollute, according to Ecology. A spokeswoman confirmed June 28 the department has not documented such a case.

Ecology set the fees on wineries as part of a broader reworking of fees on more than 6,300 businesses and sewer plants that already have permits to discharge pollutants. Some manufacturers, including food processors and fruit packers, will have fees go up 4.62% on July 1 and 5.43% the following year.

Without the fee increases, Ecology says it would have to cut staff, increasing the chances businesses will violate their permits and potentially damage the environment.

A department economist concluded that the higher fees will benefit the economy by creating public-sector jobs.

“That takes a lot of chutzpah,” said Beveridge, who said he’s given up plans to expand his small Seattle winery because it would be too expensive to comply with Ecology’s rules for wineries.

“My plan was to get bigger and leave something for my kid,” he said. “Since this came out, I decided not to try.”

The fee for a winery permit will range from $296 a year to $33,196, depending on production. Some 16 large wineries already were required to have wastewater permits. With mid-sized wineries paying into the system, some large wineries will be able to pay less.

Wineries also will bear costs related to writing and following pollution-control plans, storing wastewater, monitoring water quality and reporting to Ecology.

In an analysis of the higher wastewater permit fees, Ecology’s economist figured they will create 17 public-sector jobs the first year and more later.

“This is how a broad-based set of compliance costs (primarily fees) results in a benefit to the state economy,” according to the analysis.

The growth in public-sector jobs will beget more public-sector jobs, according to the analysis.

“As a result of this modeled growth in the state economy, the public sector also grows and employs more people. Consequently, because the model groups all public sector activity, we cannot further refine where in the public sector these job gains will occur. Based on model structure, they are likely to be across a broad set of types of government (federal, state, county, city), but to include Ecology,” the analysis states.

Beveridge said his winery probably won’t be the only one to stay small to remain under the 17,835-gallon threshold.

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