Wineries Float Ideas for Treating Waste

Ontario and British Columbia producers react to regulations and expense

by Peter Mitham
water bloom winery
Working on behalf of the Wine Council of Ontario, the Bloom Centre for Sustainability depicts what an integrated approach to winery water might look like.
Jordan, Ontario—As California wineries know too well, water is a valuable resource. Often it seems the industry is caught between a rock and a hard place: Water is either in short supply, or there’s a fight to keep what’s available clean so everyone—from farmers to fish—can enjoy it.

But in Canada, governments are putting increasing pressure on wineries to manage wastewater in an effort to relieve the pressure on sewage systems and limit risks to the environment.

Working on behalf of the Wine Council of Ontario, Mississauga’s Bloom Centre drafted a briefing note last year that identified the risks of inadequate winery wastewater management. The association currently is developing guidance for wineries seeking to address these risks.

Need for water management
Jay Mullin, project manager at Bloom, said many wineries focus on production and growing their business. Waste management is a lower priority, but it’s a growing issue for cost-conscious municipalities where the wineries are located.

“We’re really trying to give them the capacity to become more proactive with how they’re managing their water and wastewater,” Mullin said.

Traditionally, many wineries have employed various methods of handling wastewater on site.

However, Ontario Ministry of the Environment regulations changed in 2011 regarding approvals for holding tanks for wineries producing more than 10,000 liters of wastewater per day. Shortly afterward, building code changes prompted local governments (which oversee tanks of less than 10,000 liters) to make changes of their own.

Storage of wastewater not allowed
Staff in the Niagara Region, home to the biggest concentration of wineries in the province, last year ceased to permit permanent onsite storage of wastewater. This has forced wineries to send wastewater into municipal systems and face hefty surcharges if organic content exceeds designated thresholds, pay to have water shipped offsite for treatment or engage in on-site processing to reduce organic content.

The former are not options municipalities favor, as wastewater high in organic content places a significant burden on treatment facilities.

“The municipalities don’t really like taking that water,” Mullin told Wines & Vines. “A lot of municipal treatment systems are trying to discourage that practice, are starting to apply surcharges to hauled water (which traditionally they haven’t done), or sometimes even just not allowing hauled water to be dropped off at their treatment plants.”

A real-life example
Cave Spring Cellars in Jordan, Ontario, traditionally engaged in basic on-site processing of wastewater prior to discharging it into the municipal sewer system. Solids were removed, however the water still exceeded municipal thresholds for organic content. The winery typically has paid surcharges of up to $5,000 per year, in addition to $6,000 per year in processing costs.

Working with Bloom, the winery participated in a pilot project that saw EcoEthic Inc. provide a BioGill (developed in Australia) to filter its wastewater.

Biological oxygen demand (BOD), a measure of organic pollutants in water, dropped from 4,000 to 6,000 mg per liter to just 48, well below the threshold of 350 that triggers municipal charges.

“Our solids dropped, our pH was easier to control, and our phosphorous—which we don’t really have a problem with—was also taken care of,” said Dave Hooper, operations manager for Cave Spring.

The pilot extended to a year, and Cave Spring is now planning to install a BioGill system capable of processing up to 15,000 liters per day under its crush pad. (Its actual volume will be closer to 4,000 liters per day, on average, to a maximum of 9,000 liters a day.)

The cost for the basic equipment will be $160,000, though installation is expected to double the capital cost of the project.

Canada’s other major wine-producing province, British Columbia, is following suit.

Progress out west
While wineries such as Tantalus Vineyards have on-site wastewater processing (see “B.C. Winery Ferments Water”), the province’s Ministry of the Environment is clamping down.

The government agency has asked wineries east of Vancouver to cease the discharge of winery wastewater into local ditches, while Metro Vancouver (the district that coordinates water management across 21 municipalities in the province’s southwest) recently proposed a bylaw covering discharge of waste from breweries, wineries and similar operations.

The proposed by law requires record-keeping of waste treatment practices and provides for charges for discharge appropriate to production volumes.

This has prompted wineries such as Chaberton Estate Winery in Langley to seek permits for the appropriate handling of wastewater.

Chaberton Estate, which also has a septic field because it’s not on a municipal sewage system (like most other local wineries), has traditionally discharged its wastewater into local drainage ditches.

The B.C. Ministry of the Environment “asked us to stop that,” Brian Ensor, general manager of Chaberton Estate told Wines & Vines. “We’re just applying for a discharge permit for this harvest to truck it offsite. We do have engineers working on more of a long-term treatment system for us, but the costs are exorbitant.”

But the costs of handling wastewater are not likely to go down.

Hooper said the cost of installing the BioGill at Cave Spring outstrips municipal charges for wastewater at present, but it promises to pay off because he can’t see governments reducing charges.

Indeed, with municipalities facing hefty bills to replace aging infrastructure, costs seem guaranteed to rise.

“A lot of wineries have relied on (municipal systems) for quite a while, but with the growth and development, with the cost pressures wastewater-treatment plants are facing, it’s something we don’t see as a sustainable long-term practice,” Mullin said. “It’s going to continue to get more expensive.”

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