New Wastewater Rule Reflects Increasing Environmental Regulation of Wine Industry

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The Washington wine industry is the second largest in the United States, with over 970 wineries in business and an annual production of approximately 17.5 million cases, according to the Washington State Wine Commission. As the Washington wine industry grows, it will to face an increasing level of environmental regulation.  Other winegrowing states, such as California and Oregon, have had environmental regulations specifically governing the wine industry in place for years, and this trend will likely continue into Washington.

The Clean Water Act was passed in 1972, and its various requirements have applied to many industries for a number of years.  However, with the exception of the largest wine producers in Washington, the wine industry has largely been under the radar in terms of wastewater regulation.  That is beginning to change.

On July 1st, the Washington Department of Ecology’s new Winery General Permit went into effect. The new law clarifies the rules of the road for wastewater management practices for wineries that meet certain output requirements.  The regulation applies to wineries that annually produce:

  • 53,505 gallons of wastewater or more;
  • 7,500 cases of wine or juice or more; or
  • 17,835 gallons of wine or juice or more.

For wineries that meet or exceed those output requirements, wineries must apply for permit coverage.  The rule sets out discharge limits, monitoring requirements (requiring the producer to take some wastewater samples quarterly for parameters such as pH and Biological Oxygen Demand), and sets forth best management practices (technological approaches to treating or managing wastewater discharges).  As an example, the permit describes permissible approaches to using wastewater to irrigate managed vegetation, treatment in wastewater lagoons, or application to control road dust.

As with any type of environmental regulations, the devil is in the details.  If your winery’s production meets the legal requirements, speaking with an attorney to make sure you are on track for compliance is a good idea.   The deadline for existing wineries that meet the size requirements to apply for coverage is September 29.

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