Washington Wastewater Permit Set for Spring Release

Winery inspections could start in early 2018 as draft delayed until March

by Peter Mitham
wine grape winery wastewater permit washington
The Washington state Department of Ecology updated its timeline to draft a Winery General Permit that covers wastewater discharge.
Yakima, Wash.—Two years of waiting will soon be over as Washington state’s Department of Ecology puts the finishing touches on the draft of a winery permit governing wastewater discharge.

The proposed permit has been a focus of sessions at the annual meeting of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers (WAWGG) for the past two years (see “Water Management Key to Growth in Washington”). The long-awaited draft permit is now in the hands of Stacey Callaway, who assumed responsibility for writing the permit this past February.

The timeline previously called for a draft permit to be posted for public comment this fall, following harvest, but the timeline was updated this week with a March release date set.

“We do have a preliminary draft together, but there are still a couple of ideas that we want to look into more,” Callaway told Wines & Vines. “We really want to have our ideas shaped the best we can so that we’re communicating them effectively.”

A technical advisory group including industry representatives will review the draft prior to its release. A 60-day public comment period will follow posting of the draft permit. Discussions with the technical advisory group will help incorporate the feedback, with a formal draft slated for release in August 2017. A further, 45-day period for public comment will ensue, followed by public hearings.

The final permit should be available a year from now, although the department warns, “This schedule is subject to change,” below the schedule posted online (see copy above). 

This schedule could see the first winery inspections occur in early 2018. Wineries also would be expected to draw up pollution prevention plans by 2019.

Callaway presented an update on the permit process to the Issues Caucus WAWGG held in partnership with the Washington Wine Institute on Nov. 9 in Yakima. Her presentation pointed out that several wineries hold individual permits, but a general permit will ensure that all wineries are operating under a common set of regulations. Wineries within King County, which includes both Seattle’s urban wineries as well as those in the hub of Woodinville, will be exempt because a delegated, publicly owned treatment works (POTW) handles their discharge.

Wineries that discharge significant volumes of wastewater either to a non-delegated POTW or domestic septic field—or those that store it in unlined lagoons or apply it directly to fields—will require the permit. (Groundwater protection is a particular concern of the permit, Callaway said.)

Among the variables subject to clarification is the threshold for exempting small wineries from the permit.

Right now, the draft permit proposes limited coverage for wineries crushing less than 40 tons of grapes or producing less than 2,500 cases of wine annually, or those discharging less than 17,835 gallons of wastewater each calendar year.

“We recognize that there are many small wineries in Washington, and it’s important to us that the winery general permit not cause anyone to go out of business,” Callaway told Wines & Vines. “We really want to find that balance so we can protect water quality but not negatively impact any of the wineries.”

Permit fees, which will vary by production, also have to be set. Right now, wineries have been told to expect costs ranging from $350 to $500 per year for the smallest producers, up to $6,000 a year for the state’s biggest wineries.

This will likely change in discussion with the state’s fees rule-making group.

Washington Wine Institute executive director Josh McDonald said the permit process to date has been fairly open minded. He reiterated Callaway’s belief that it won’t benefit anyone if the permit isn’t workable.

“Department of Ecology is listening to us, and they have made some changes to the way that they think about the way wineries operate and the things that may and may not work for us,” he said. “We’re making progress, but we have a lot of work left to do.”

Growers attending WAWGG earlier this year were told the permit was a blip on the horizon rather than a looming issue, but the draft permit gives it a semblance of reality.

Callaway said the learning process will continue for everyone through the initial five-year permit cycle, however.

“Our goal for this first permit cycle is to learn more about the Washington wineries from the information they ask us to report, and from site visits,” she said. “We also want the wineries to really thoroughly examine their waste-management practices and find ways to improve them.”

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