Friday, February 6, 2015

Working with wineries to protect Washington’s waters

By Sandy Howard, Water Quality Program communications manager

Many wineries are green and are already
minimizing environmental harm.

Washington now follows California as the second-largest wine producing state in the nation.  Undeniably, the Washington wine industry is a valuable contributor to our economy, bringing in money and jobs to our state.

According to the Washington State Wine Commission, the number of wineries in Washington has more than doubled from 360 in 2005 to more than 850 today. The wine industry provides an estimated $8.6 billion in total economic impact to our state. It also provides more than 27,000 jobs and $1.06 billion in wine-related tourism.

Growth of wineries = growth in winery wastewater

However, more wineries in Washington means there is also more winery wastewater. If wastewater is not managed, it can cause problems for the environment and local sewer treatment plants.

Other top wine producing states such as California and Oregon have developed water quality permits for wineries. Washington is now considering following suit. We are in the preliminary stages of developing a water quality permit for wineries in our state.

The Department of Ecology is partnering with the wine industry to develop a water quality permit that meets the needs of wineries and protects water quality. We believe the winery industry can succeed both economically and environmentally.

Many wineries are green

In general, the wine industry has adopted practices that promote sustainability and minimize environmental harm.  Many wineries are already successfully managing their wastewater.

Eastern and central Washington wineries mostly affected
Currently, 13 of Washington's larger wineries have individual water quality permits. We expect the new permit would mostly affect wineries in eastern and central Washington.
This permit will protect water quality by defining best practices for the management of winery wastewater. It will also provide regulatory certainty and consistency for Washington’s wine industry.

Why winery wastewater is a concern

Winery wastewater is acidic and can include cleaning agents, grape juice, and organic sediment (lees) that usually comes from washing tanks, barrels, crush pads, and floors at the winery. 

When winery wastewater breaks down naturally, microorganisms consume a large amount of oxygen. If this wastewater gets into our rivers or streams it can cause oxygen levels to drop and put aquatic life at risk.

Winery wastewater also has the potential to contaminate our groundwater, which is where many of us get our drinking water. Groundwater contamination can occur if a winery’s septic system and drainfield fails, their wastewater lagoon is unlined or leaking, or if they use too much untreated wastewater to irrigate their crops. 

Some wineries discharge their wastewater into local sewage treatment plants, which have the ability to treat winery wastewater. However, a large volume of high-strength wastewater can throw off the chemistry of sewer plants and can affect their ability to properly treat the wastewater. This could lead to the discharge of high levels of pollutants, and violations of the wastewater treatment plant’s water quality permit.

Water quality permit is in early stages

Ecology is in the early stages of developing a Winery Waste Discharge General Permit. We are working with wineries, local wine associations, consultants and treatment plants on the development of the new permit.

We have begun meeting with an external technical advisory group comprised of stakeholders with winery experience and industry knowledge to assist with this process.

How to get involved or get information

If you have any questions, please contact Chelsea Desforges at or 360-407-6435.

To receive updates, notices, and other information about this effort, we invite you to join our winery email listserv or visit our website.

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