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Winery Wastewater Worries: Adapting to New Compliance Realities

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With a deadline looming, wineries face a complicated path to compliance with
California’s Statewide Waste Discharge Requirements 

By Laurie Wachter

The California wine industry has been plagued by extraordinary challenges in labor costs and shortages, health lockdowns, supply chain disruptions and natural disasters. Now, climate change is bringing challenges of a different sort, as California’s new Winery General Order is set to introduce wastewater regulations that will impact wineries across the state. 

A Complex Compliance Landscape

Although wineries that don’t discharge water to land are exempt from the new rules, the Wine Institute estimates that 1,500 wineries across the state will have to comply. Noelle Cremers, WI’s director of environmental and regulatory affairs, was instrumental in gaining exemptions for 500 wineries producing less than 10,000 gallons of process water annually. 

Noelle Cremers

“Originally, requirements were the same no matter the winery size,” she explains, “but the likelihood of having a major impact is much lower for smaller wineries that don’t discharge as much wastewater. We helped align the requirements with the risk.”

Systems and requirements vary, so the Institute created a flow chart to help wineries determine their need to comply and compliance worksheets for the order’s four tiers, which align with the amount of wastewater produced. 

Individual regions may have different paths to compliance. For example, small Temecula Valley wineries that would otherwise be exempt are required to comply by the San Diego Regional Board, which is concerned about their joint impact on water quality. 

The Cost of Compliance

The term “compliance” often carries a sense of trepidation, with many associating it with government oversight and a potentially overwhelming bureaucratic process. Diving into the 119-page Winery Order alone can be daunting. However, it’s a process that wineries must nevertheless navigate. Luckily, there are helping hands along the way. 

One of them is Gina Giacone, principal and water and wastewater division manager at Summit Engineering. She was a technical advisor to the state on the WDR and is now helping wineries navigate the system and come into compliance with the new wastewater regulations. 

Gina Giacone

“This is a huge financial burden, especially for smaller wineries,” she says. “Over the last three years, I’ve seen prices double for the wastewater treatment systems that facilities need for compliance.” Summit’s engineers help wineries keep those costs under control by assessing the winery’s site and goals and showing them system options, tradeoffs and price comparisons. 

“It’s not just about the cost to invest in the equipment and infrastructure to be compliant,” Giacone adds, “it’s the ongoing cost. Some systems are heavy energy consumers, and the monitoring piece can cost $20,000 annually.” 

The Road to Compliance

Laurel Walddrip

“Wineries should start sooner rather than later,” says Laurel Warddrip, senior environmental scientist and waste discharge requirements program manager at the California State Water Resources Control Board. “These are complicated permits that can take time to figure out and do right. It’s crucial for wineries to initiate their wastewater compliance planning well before the end of November.”

To that point, wineries impacted by the California Statewide Waste Discharge Requirements (WDR) must submit a plan to bring their winery process water outflow into compliance and obtain approval within the year. 

The California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA) developed two tools that can help wineries through this process: the CSWA Integrated Winery Water Quality Management Tool and the CSWA Environmental Compliance Tool.

Warddrip also encourages wineries to reach out to the Water Board. “We’re here to work with people who are trying to protect water quality. And that’s what these permits do. So we’re here as a resource.”

Laurel Warddrip will moderate State of Compliance with the New Winery General Order at the 11th Annual North Coast Wine Industry Expo (WIN Expo) on November 30, where she will lead a discussion with Noelle Cremers and Gina Giacone about tips to help wineries overcome the barriers to compliance. Learn more about this session and the WIN Expo event at wineindustryexpo.com.

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Laurie Wachter
Laurie Wachter

Laurie Wachter

Laurie developed her love of analytics and innovation while advising consumer packaged goods companies, including Kraft Foods, PepsiCo and the Altria Group, on consumer and POS data analytics and direct-to-consumer marketing. Today, she writes about these topics in the wine, food and beverage industries for a global client base.

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