Beginning in mid-2019, many Washington wineries will need a permit from the state Department of Ecology (“Ecology”) to discharge wastewater. Ecology issued the state’s first five-year Winery General Permit (the “permit”) on May 17, 2018, but delayed its effective date until July 1, 2019. The new permit will regulate discharges of process wastewater from wineries to land, groundwater, and wastewater treatment plants. No surface water discharges will be allowed under the permit. Ecology has not determined how much a permit will cost, but the new rules in the permit will add financial burden to businesses and may hinder the growth of small wineries.
Ecology decided to develop the general permit due to the rapid increase of wine production in Washington. However, according to Ecology’s Fact Sheet, wineries have not been a “major source” of pollution in Washington. Although Ecology stated in one of the agency’s Responses to Public Comments that “it was unable to find documented evidence of a Washington winery polluting groundwater,” it maintained that “a lack of evidence does not mean groundwater is not being impacted.”
The new permit will apply to wineries that discharge at least 53,505 gallons of wastewater or produce at least 7,500 cases (17,835 gallons) of wine or juice per calendar year. More specifically, wineries that meet the above threshold numbers will need the permit if they discharge wastewater according to one or more of the following methods: (1) to a wastewater treatment plant that is not listed; (2) as irrigation to managed vegetation; (3) to a lagoon or other liquid storage structure; (4) as road dust abatement; (5) to a subsurface infiltration system; or (6) to an infiltration basin.
In general, discharges authorized by the permit may not cause or contribute to a violation of Washington State Water Quality Standards. The permit will require wineries to implement best management practices and take on inspection, recordkeeping, and reporting duties. The rules that come with the permit also set specific discharge limits and flow monitoring and sampling requirements. The volume of wastewater that can be used to irrigate and abate road dust and the number of days for such applications are also restricted. Additionally, permittees will be required to prepare pollution-prevention plans and train employees to prevent, respond to, and report spills.
Each violation of the permit terms and conditions may result in criminal and/or civil penalties. Any person who is found guilty of willfully violating the permit could be deemed guilty of a crime and will be punished by a fine of up to $10,000 or by imprisonment in the discretion of the court. A civil penalty of up to $10,000 for every violation may also be imposed, and every day’s continuance will be deemed a separate and distinct violation.
Before the permit is effective, Ecology plans to hold workshops to inform winery representatives how to apply for permit coverage, inspect facilities, document progress, implement best management practices, and report using Ecology’s web portal. Interested parties can join Ecology’s winery email listserv to receive updates, notices, and other information. Ecology will also develop guidance and templates for documents required in the permit.
Some answers to common questions can be found on Ecology’s FAQ page. Also, Ecology’s Fact Sheet can be used as a resource to search for specific topics. If you have any other questions, please contact one of the attorneys listed below: