New wastewater monitoring and reporting rules directed at wineries are expected to have major impacts on Washington’s smaller vintners, especially during seasonally busy times, like crush.

The Washington Department of Ecology (“Ecology”) has proposed a new general permit that requires wineries to sample every month for certain kinds of potential contaminants in their wastewater. Wastewater is the water left over after cleaning and rinsing tanks, barrels and lines, washing floors, and sterilizing bottles.


New permit requires monthly sampling, monitoring, and reporting for several constituents

The new general permit will set monitoring and sampling requirements for wineries that discharge wastewater to the following:

  • Publicly owned treatment works (“POTW”) that have not been delegated permitting authority by Ecology;
  • Land treatment via irrigation to managed vegetation;
  • A lagoon or other liquid storage structure;
  • As road dust abatement;
  • A subsurface infiltration system;
  • An infiltration basin.

Under the general permit, Ecology will require wineries to conduct a significant amount of sampling over the course of the year to test for average daily flow, pH, Biological Oxygen Demand (“BOD,” or the amount of organic material in water that is using up the available oxygen), Total Organic Carbon (“TOC”), suspended solids, nitrate, and chloride.

There is an exemption for very small wineries that discharge less than 53,505 gallons of wastewater per year, crush less than 119 tons of fruit per calendar year, or produce less than 7,500 cases of wine or juice or 17,835 gallons of wine or juice per calendar year.



Implementation will be tricky with winery production cycles

Washington is the second-largest vine-producing state in the country, a distant second after California. Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville is the seventh-largest winery in the world.

But the wineries most likely to be affected by the new wastewater rules will be the smaller mom-and-pop wineries, most of which are too small to qualify for many exemptions and do not have the capital laid up or the infrastructure in place to comply with new monitoring and reporting requirements.

Josh McDonald is the Executive Director of the Washington Wine Institute, an organization that advocates for Washington’s wineries. He’s worried about the 7,000- to 40,000-case-per-year rural winery that uses a septic or lagoon system to manage wastewater. The capital investments they will have to make to be able to continue operating will be significant.

And, depending on what the final general permit looks like, there may be a few disconnects between the permit’s requirements and practicalities on the ground that are unique to the wine industry. For example, unlike other industries, there would be a lag between when a vintner would incur sampling and reporting costs following production of a particular batch of wine, and when the money from selling that batch would become available. Because of the aging process, vintners typically have to wait 24 to 36 months before they make money off a bottle. The way vintners budget, and the timeline for realizing profits on their products, doesn’t work for large capital outlays, such as wastewater treatment systems, or improvements to lagoons.

Monthly sampling and reporting requirements raise another potential disconnect. Harvest and crush are the most hectic, all-consuming times of year for wineries. Crush typically lasts 30 to 60 days, but 2016’s season lasted three months because nature is unpredictable. Truckload after truckload of grapes arrived at the wineries, Mr. McDonald said, and there was no let-up in the amount of work until every grape was processed.

Mr. McDonald said the new permit’s 14-day reporting deadline may be impossible, practically speaking, for most wineries to achieve during crush – that is, unless they can afford to hire someone who deals with regulatory compliance exclusively.

The new general permit also will require wineries to develop a Winery Pollution Prevention Plan, similar to those drafted by companies that generate dangerous waste or recycled materials, and to implement best management practices (“BMPs”).

The permit is expected to go into effect in the summer of 2019.

Need help understanding Washington’s new winery permit, or need to be connected with someone who can help with monitoring, sampling, reporting, or compliance? Contact Erica Doctor at to schedule a consultation.