Washington State Drafting Wastewater Permit

Mandatory permit for wineries could be finalized as soon as November

by Peter Mitham
wawgg permit wastewater
Bill Moore from the Washington Department of Ecology (right to left) speaks on a panel with Stuart Childs of Kennedy Jenks Consultants and Chelsea Desforges of the Department of Ecology on Tuesday at the annual meeting of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers in Kennewick, Wash.
Kennewick, Wash.—All but the smallest wineries in Washington state will require a permit to discharge process wastewater in a little more than a year, according to Washington Department of Ecology (DOE) staff speaking to vintners gathered for the annual Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers meeting in Kennewick this week.

DOE representatives Bill Moore and Chelsea Desforges addressed a full room on the first afternoon of the annual meeting, keen to receive feedback about the proposed permit.

An advisory committee of stakeholders drawn from industry and municipalities convened last year, but DOE staff are taking pains to understand current practice and how best to shape a permit that eases the transition to a more regulated environment. Some existing systems could even be deemed compliant with the provisions of the new permit, and accepted as-is.

“We’re trying to find out, where are the issues?” Moore said. “My goal isn’t to put people out of compliance, my goal is to protect water quality. If you’re doing that, you’re in.”

Specific to wineries
Right now, Washington state 13 wineries have discharge permits—representing just a fraction of the approximately 6,500 discharge permits held by organizations across the state. The permits cost wineries between $350 and $6,000.

The new permit, tailored specifically to the circumstances of wineries, should address the variation, according to Desforges.

“We wanted to ensure consistency across the state,” she said. “We’ll have one blanket guideline.”

A consistent guideline is also important for wineries, which engage in a variety of management and discharge practices for what the DOE estimates is the 120 million gallons of process wastewater they produce each year—water that is often more acidic and requires more oxygen to break down than the average bucket of household wastewater.

“All of which poses a potential risk to the environment,” Desforges noted.

Highly acidic wastewater can also damage municipal wastewater infrastructure, boosting maintenance and repair costs. And if the wastewater contains too much organic content that’s slow to break down, blockages can occur that further test infrastructure. With many municipal systems already struggling to keep pace with population growth, industrial demands are a straw too many for the proverbial camel’s back.

This isn’t to say all wineries are discharging waste into municipal systems, nor are all discharging at the same rate.

Stuart Childs, a senior scientist with engineering firm Kennedy/Jenks Consultants in Portland, Ore., said the best wineries produce just 2 gallons of wastewater for every gallon of wine produced. The average is closer to 6 gallons, however, but it’s not uncommon for wineries to produce upwards of 10 gallons from activities ranging from fermentation to sanitation.

Some wineries discharge into municipal wastewater treatment systems (POTWs, or publicly owned treatment works), which are either undesignated and fall under the DOE’s oversight or are designated by department staff to regulate wastewater quality

However, a show of hands underscored the number of wineries that are managing their own wastewater through a variety of methods including irrigation, lagoons, double-lined evaporation ponds and septic systems.

Focus on smaller wineries
While the state’s largest wineries—the approximately 34 vintners producing more than 25,000 gallons of wine per year—will probably be encouraged to obtain a separate permit reflecting their individual circumstances, the focus of the new permit will be smaller wineries producing more than 500 gallons per year (the actual threshold isn’t yet set).

The proposed permit will address the discharge of process wastewater to land and non-delegated POTWs. It won’t include waster from tasting rooms or water from viticultural operations.

While the audience of vintners at WAWGG seemed to take a keen interest in the topic, discussion following the presentations highlighted some key issues.

Many wanted to know when wineries would be required to comply with the regulations specified under the permit. Others asked if it might prompt non-designated POTWs to seek designations and assume greater responsibility—and potentially set tighter controls—regarding discharges into their systems. And that, in turn was linked to the question of how much the transition to the new regime will cost industry, which, as one audience member pointed out, doesn’t necessarily have the margins to absorb further costs. Portland, for example, assesses wineries based on the volume of wastewater sent into its treatment system, with additional charges based on organic content and acidity. Childs gave an example suggesting it wouldn’t be uncommon for Portland to assess a producer discharging 1,000 gallons per day $12—$6 for the wastewater, and another $6 for organic content and acidity.

Childs encouraged producers to reduce winery demand for water as an initial step toward managing discharge, then seek ways to adjust the composition of what they release. Where possible, speakers encouraged beneficial reuse. Of course, regulation of process wastewater is not new.

California and Oregon both require wineries to manage wastewater and its discharge, and New York and Michigan are both moving toward permit regimes. Ontario and British Columbia also are grappling with the load wineries and other processors’ place on municipal sewage treatment systems (see “Wineries Float Ideas for Treating Waste”). 

“The first things we’re considering are what is and isn’t working for neighboring states,” Desforges said.

The Department of Ecology plans to present a preliminary draft of the permit to industry for comment by July, with the official draft mandated by law ready in November. A 45-day comment period will follow presentation of the formal draft.

WAWGG attendees recommended that an industry survey be part of the process of drafting the permit, and that introduction of the draft—and the comment period—be deferred till 2016 to allow wineries to recover from crush.

All going well, the draft permit would be approved and in place by March 2016. A transition period allowing wineries to make the changes necessary for compliance would likely be specified prior to enforcement of permit requirements.

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