California Adopts New Winery Rules to Protect California’s Waters

January 21st, 2021

The State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) adopted its first statewide rules to manage waste from winemaking and protect California’s rivers and groundwater.

In California, there are approximately 4,580 wineries and nearly 560,000 acres of vineyards that produce a variety of grapes for the wineries. Though to-date, wineries have only been regulated on a case-by-case basis by California’s nine Regional Water Quality Control Boards (Regional Water Boards), leaving only 589 (16%) of all wineries in California with permits to protect water quality.

Wine wastewater poses a threat California’s rivers, lakes, and groundwater basins with high concentrations of salt, organic compounds, bacteria, with high strength biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), total suspended solids (TSS), abnormal pH, and nitrogen that can be 15 to 25 times higher than raw, untreated sewage. If left untreated and winery wastewater reaches a waterway, it can cause harmful algal blooms that are toxic to both people and pets that visit our rivers, and can further degrade groundwater that is the sole source of drinking water for a number of California communities.

This is the first statewide order of its kind and will help gap-fill the lack of regulation for thousands of wineries in California. Though, unfortunately – and unsurprisingly – the wine industry has had the State Water Board’s ear when developing these new rules, resulting in essentially no groundwater monitoring requirements for facilities that produce less than 1 million gallons per year.

California courts have ruled time and time again that minimal monitoring programs – let alone nonexistent programs – fly in the face of the entire purpose of the federal Clean Water Act and California’s Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act by failing to track and detect whether the rules and limits set by permits are actually being met.

Without monitoring data, we simply do not and cannot know the scale of the impacts from individual wineries on our rivers and drinking water sources. Meanwhile, it’s important that best management practices be in place and are monitored to ensure they work to prevent accidental spills from reaching California’s waters.

While the rules adopted by the State Water Board today are an important step to regulate the wastewater produced by thousands of wineries, the rules leave the Water Boards to regulate in the dark.

California Waterkeepers are committed to making sure that these new rules are not simply empty words on page – but actually protect water quality based on sound science and data.

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Categories: Agriculture, Happening Now