Costs Looming on Winery Wastewater Permits

Washington group fails to raise funds for appeal, Oregon sets exemption for permit

by Peter Mitham
Opponents of a new winery wastewater permit in Washington claim it will make reusing treated process wastewater more difficult.

Olympia, Wash.—A collective of small wineries in Washington failed to muster the support needed to challenge the state’s new general permit for winery wastewater discharge.

Family Wineries of Washington State, an association formed in 2008 “to advocate for issues of particular importance to small, artisan wineries,” was working to gather support for an appeal of the new five-year permit that the Washington Department of Ecology published on May 17 with an effective date of July 1, 2019.

The culmination of four years of work, the new permit seeks “to establish waste management practices for winemaking facilities to prevent pollution and protect waters of the state.”

The permit regulates discharge of process wastewater to land groundwater and wastewater treatment plants and prohibits surface water discharge. Wineries that produce less than 7,500 cases a year are exempt, unless the state deems them significant contributors of pollutants, as well as those that discharge to what’s formally known as a “delegated publicly owned treatment works” – typically, a municipal treatment plant. According to the ecology department, approximately 100 of the state’s 772 wineries will require the permit.

Even so, Stephanie Meier, an associate in the Seattle office of law firm Stoel Rives LLP,
observed that permit requirements “will add financial burden to businesses and may hinder the growth of small wineries.”

Case limit picked ‘out of thin air’
This was the stance of the Family Wineries of Washington State, which counts more than 60 wineries as members.

“We really hate the fact that it’s going to make beneficial reuse of the water more difficult – harder to spray it on your vineyard, dust control and that sort of thing,” said Paul Beveridge, owner of Wilridge Winery in Yakima and a founding member of the Family Wineries of Washington State. “[Ecology] picked 7,500 cases completely out of thin air. They’ve shown no impact to groundwater from wineries of a much larger size, and they admit that much.”

Raising the threshold would give wineries extra room for growth before needing a permit. According to Wines Vines Analytics’ winery database, an additional 14 wineries would be exempt if the threshold was raised.

However, when the June 16 deadline to file an appeal passed, insufficient support had been mustered to pay for a legal challenge. “We were not able to raise the funds in time,” Beveridge said.

Beveridge hasn’t ruled out the possibility of future court action, but the lack of an appeal means the permit moves to the next stage of implementation, which is the setting of permit fees. This stands to be a bigger question for wineries, which have been asking about the direct costs since discussions began. Wineries pushed back against initial suggestions that the fees could range from $350 to $500 a year for small producers and up to $6,000 a year for the state’s biggest wineries.

“We intend to work with the wine industry this summer to discuss possible fee categories for the winery general permit,” permit writer Stacey Callaway told the industry in a circular released June 25. “Stay tuned, more to come.”

Oregon wineries gain exemption
The battle in Washington stands in sharp contrast to Oregon, where small wineries recently won an exemption from the state’s water pollution control facility (WPCF) permits for food processors.
A two-year review of water quality permitting in the state ultimately determined wineries producing less than 6,000 cases a year were exempt from permitting requirements. Previously, all wineries on agricultural land required the permits, which were first required more than 20 years ago.

“We were invited to participate in a short stakeholder review process and raise some concerns and changes that we thought should be made,” said Jana McKamey, director of government affairs with the Oregon Winegrowers Association (OWA). “We engaged with an environmental consulting firm and worked with our legal counsel at Davis Wright Tremaine LLP to put together a detailed public comment.”

While the state initially proposed a threshold of 100 gallons a day, the seasonal nature of winemaking saw the environmental consultant propose a threshold based on annual production, either 6,000 or 7,500 cases. The state’s environmental quality staff chose 6,000 cases.

“A good chunk of the Oregon wine industry is going to be under that 6,000-case threshold and won’t need permit coverage, so we think that’s a really great win for the industry,” McKamey said.

According to Wines Vines Analytics’ winery database, just 113 of Oregon’s 774 wineries produce more than 6,000 cases. State data indicates 79 wineries currently hold WPCF permits.

While most in the state’s wine industry agree the 6,000-case threshold is defensible, McKamey pointed out that Oregon, like Washington, can require smaller wineries get a permit if circumstances require it. To head off any problems, OWA is undertaking an education program to promote best practices with respect to wastewater management.

“We’re not looking at this 6,000-case threshold as completely exempting wineries from considering what the impacts of their wastewater might be,” she said. “We really want to encourage smaller wineries, wineries of all sizes, to be looking at their systems and being sensitive to environmental impacts and taking action as needed.”

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