Home Wine Business Editorial New Winery Wastewater Regulations Could Cost Small and Midsize Wineries Thousands Every...

New Winery Wastewater Regulations Could Cost Small and Midsize Wineries Thousands Every Year


The California state water board is working on an update to the winery general order to provide a permitting process with water discharge requirements (WDR) that make sure wineries are in compliance with water quality regulation and allows them a pathway to compliance. The new order will affect over 2,000 wineries that discharge winery waste to land for the purpose of disposal or reuse for irrigation and soil amendment.

Wastewater Treatment Process

“Unfortunately, it is a very, very extensive permit with an incredibly long list of monitoring requirements and reporting requirements for all wineries that are subject to the order. It adds significant costs to these wineries and a lot of what’s being asked to be monitored doesn’t necessarily match with the potential risk, so it doesn’t provide a water quality benefit,” says Noelle Cremers, Director of Environmental and Regulatory Affairs with the Wine Institute, who has been having discussions with the water board about how the regulations can reach the water quality standards without undue hardship for particularly small and midsize wineries that pose very a low risk.

The Wine Institute hired a consulting firm to calculate the ongoing monitoring beyond the startup cost in the capital expenses, and they found the annual costs could range from $17,000 a year to $44,000 a year depending on the size and what type of water treatment system a winery uses. “For small wineries, that’s a significant amount of money to spend on gathering weekly samples,” says Cremers, “the water quality isn’t changing that dramatically in a week, and yet they’re being asked every week to go out and gather new samples and there’s not the capacity in certified labs to process those samples.”

The general order classifies winery dischargers into regulatory tiers based on the total volume of processed water discharged annually from the winery prior to treatment, and the application requirements, fees, and monitoring and reporting requirements are differentiated to the complexity of the discharge.

Tier Determination – Tier Total winery process water volume (gal/yr)

  • De minimis ≤ 10,000
  • Tier 1 10,001 – 100,000 (approx. 840-8,400 cases)
  • Tier 2 100,001 – 300,000 (approx. 8,400-25,0000 cases)
  • Tier 3 300,001 – 1,000,000 (approx. 25,000-84,000 cases)
  • Tier 4 > 1,000,000 (approx. 84,000+ cases)

An estimated 700 of the 2,070 wineries subject to the general order are de minimis facilities. De minimis facilities are only required to register under this general order if directed by the State Water Board or a regional water board.

“Wine Institute’s members are fine with doing our part to make sure that the winery activities are not damaging California’s water and the water quality that we all depend on,” says Cremers. “That being said, let’s make sure the permit is focused on working towards protecting water quality rather than just having people monitoring without that exercise having a direct connection to a water quality benefit. Our concern is that the tiers are divided in a way that doesn’t really recognize the reality on the ground for California wineries.”

Every Tier 4 winery under the proposal will have to install at least three groundwater monitoring wells and do regular groundwater monitoring regardless of the risk factors associated with the wineries practices, and the Wine Institute believes it reflects a lack of recognition about the diversity of California’s wine industry and how different size wineries operate and how their operations impact the groundwater. 

“If you look at a winery that is producing 85,000 cases of wine and compare them to some of the largest wineries, there’s a big difference between those two, and we really think that the way the tier structures have been done doesn’t accurately reflect the reality of economics in winemaking,” says Cremer. “We’d like to see Tier 1 be a bigger group of wineries that ranges from 10,000 to 500,000 thousand gallons, and Tier 2 should also be a little bigger, and Tier 4 would be the very small group of wineries that are really big.”

Cremer believes organizing the tiers that way would put more wineries in Tier 1 which has the lowest requirements, and it would better match the potential risk to water quality. And, there are other distinguishing factors that should be considered before imposing a blanket requirement, such as how many acres the water is being spread out over and the shallowness of the groundwater in certain locations.

The state water board is planning to make a decision on the winery general order at their November meeting and is accepting input on the draft order until noon on August 5th, so any winery that has specific concerns about how the water discharge requirements will impact them can provide comments and make recommendations. “The Wine Institute will be providing extensive comments,” says Cremer.

She has already been working to impress upon the water board how an industry that is impacted by COVID-19 shutdowns potentially to the tune of six billion dollars would suffer tremendously from costs associated with this draft order, especially the weekly monitoring and collection of samples.

“These wineries are focused solely on staying in business and they don’t have time to go through and review a hundred-page permit that’s very technical,” explains Cremer, “and the smaller wineries don’t have the staff to implement a permit that requires this level of monitoring on a regular basis.”

Update: Letter to State Water Board submitted by Wine Institute and coalition partners.

By Kim Badenfort

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