Washington State’s wineries are as diverse as the wines they produce. How wineries handle wastewater is just as varied, which makes developing a new general wastewater permit that can be tailored to fit all winery sizes a unique challenge.

The Washington State Department of Ecology, working with the state’s wine industry for more than two years, recently announced a timeline for developing a new winery general permit for wastewater. Though some believe it is an optimistic timeline, the first preliminary draft is scheduled for release in August.

After the draft goes through a 45-day public comment period, a formal draft is scheduled for release in January 2016 (with another 45-day comment period), and the new permit effective date would be next March.

A wine industry wastewater stakeholders group will work with Ecology in drafting the permit and provide feedback as part of the rulemaking process. Although the group has yet to see any draft language, it has already asked that the preliminary draft be released when industry has time to provide meaningful comments and not in the throes of crush, which begins in August and usually concludes in mid- to late November.

The stakeholders group includes statewide wine grape grower and winery trade associations, Winerywise, Washington Wine Industry Foundation, small and large wineries, and wastewater engineers and consultants.

The group, through the Wine Industry Foundation, recently conducted a confidential survey of Washington wineries to get a better handle on winery demographics and better understand the different ways wineries are currently handling wastewater and discharge, said Joy Andersen, chair of the Winerywise steering committee.

Andersen, based in Prosser, is senior winemaker for the state’s largest wine producer Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.

Joy Andersen, chair of the Winerywise steering committee

Joy Andersen

Winerywise is a grassroots effort that began developing a guide to sustainable management practices for the Washington wine industry in 2007.

The guide is a voluntary, interactive online companion guide to Vinewise, a sustainable guide for grape growing, and includes industry standards and evaluation tools of sustainable practices.

“Following sustainable practices and being good stewards of our resources is a part of the fabric of the Washington wine industry,” Andersen told Good Fruit Grower.

During creation of Winerywise, the steering committee was proactive in the area of water and waste management and worked with Ecology’s non-regulatory arm to develop sustainable practices for the guide, she said. “We knew the general permit was eventually coming. They told us during our work on Winerywise that, at some point in the future, they would look at our industry’s use of wastewater practices.”

Why the need?

Chelsea Desforges, permit writer for the Department of Ecology, told growers and vintners attending the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers meeting that the wine industry has grown substantially.

Washington is the second leading wine producing state and has more than 850 bonded wineries. She estimated that from the 20 million gallons of wine produced in the state in 2013, some 120 million gallons of wastewater were generated, assuming it takes six gallons of water to produce one gallon of wine.

Ecology states on its website that the growth in the number of Washington wineries means more wastewater, and if wastewater is not managed, it can cause problems for the environment and local sewer treatment plants.

Of the 850 wineries in the state, 13 of the largest have individualized wastewater permits from Ecology. Other industries, such as fruit packing, operate under general wastewater permits. California and Oregon have general wastewater permits for wineries.

Ecology is concerned that without proper treatment, winery wastewater has the potential to disrupt treatment plant operations and degrade groundwater. Most wastewater is generated in the fall during crush.

“Raw winery wastewater is acidic and can include cleaning agents, grape juice, and organic sediment (lees) that usually come from washing tanks, barrels, crush pads, and floors at the winery,” according to Ecology’s website.

Additionally, Desforges said that wastewater discharge from wineries may have a high five-day biochemical oxygen demand that is 5 to 50 times the concentration of domestic wastewater. It also may have high total suspended solids. She pointed to problems from unlined lagoons and failed drain fields from septic systems that weren’t designed for winery waste.

“Throughout the state, there have only been a few septic failures, and there was a problem several years ago with some Woodinville wineries,” said Andersen. “But in general, most wineries are good stewards when it comes to waste water and are not problematic.”

Who will be covered?

The permit will apply to new or existing wineries that discharge winery process wastewater to land or to a non-delegated wastewater treatment plant in Washington. It will not apply to vineyards, satellite tasting rooms, wineries that discharge only to a double-lined evaporation lagoon with leak detection, or wineries that discharge to a delegated wastewater treatment plant.

A non-delegated wastewater facility must rely on Ecology to manage industrial wastewater, whereas a delegated facility has been approved, by Ecology, to manage its wastewater.

One of the biggest concerns of the wine industry is who will and will not be covered by the permit. Desforges stated that impact to small wineries is a major consideration in development of the permit.

Andersen believes that small and medium size wineries will be the most burdened by the new permit process. Identifying winery thresholds and criteria for exemption of wineries whose production is not impactful will be a key part of the draft permit.

Not all wineries are convinced of the need for the discharge regulations. Some have said they are unaware of any groundwater or surface water contamination problems and question what they see as regulatory overreach.

Wineries in the state are located in diverse areas with diverse soil types, varying amounts of annual precipitation, and varying depths to groundwater. Size and operations of wineries vary from those that do it all—from crush to barrel storage to bottling to operating wine tasting rooms—to those that only bottle wine.

“Clearly, a one-size-fits-all approach will not work with the diverse set of players that exist,” Andersen said in a letter to Ecology on behalf of Winerywise. “The diversity of wineries requires a broad array of possible solutions.”

The stakeholder’s group has stressed to Ecology that the rulemaking process should be driven towards facilitating successful implementation of the new permit.  She adds that the wine industry would welcome grant money for outreach and education to help bring wineries into compliance, but there has been no mention yet from any state agency for compliance assistance.

Andersen is hopeful Ecology will develop something that is workable for industry. “I think we have a pretty good shot at making something work for both sides,” she said. “We, as an industry, want to be on board.”

She added that Winerywise is interested in hearing from more small and medium size wineries. Those interested in joining the wastewater discussion can contact Andersen by email at: Joy.Andersen@snoqualmie.com. •


To learn more about Ecology’s development of a winery general permit, go to: http://1.usa.gov/1DBpBVZ

What is Winerywise?

Winerywise is an online, interactive guide of business and winery management practices developed by the Washington Wine Industry Foundation.

It’s a three-step series of checklists, self evaluation and assessment forms, and action plans that gives wineries tools to evaluate their business and process practices, compare their practices to industry standards of sustainability, and plan and implement sustainable management strategies.

Topics include: Energy efficiency, water management, waste management,  winery safety, staffing, safety, material handling, environmentally preferred purchasing, community outreach, site development, education, and research. To learn more, visit winerywise.org.