On January 20, 2021, the California State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) adopted a new statewide general Waste Discharge Requirement (WDR) order for winery process waste discharge facilities (New Winery Order). This action will affect thousands of wineries and wine processing facilities throughout the state. Though the State Water Board adopted the New Winery Order to streamline and improve permitting consistency while also strengthening environmental protection, wine industry groups have expressed concerns over its burdensome compliance costs.
Each of California’s nine Regional Water Quality Control Boards (RWQCB) regulate waste discharges to land by issuing WDR permits to discharging facilities that could affect the quality of waters of the state (including groundwater). They issue two types of waste discharge requirements: permits that are tailored to specific dischargers (individual WDRs) or permits for a similar group of dischargers (general WDRs). The regional water boards (for their respective Regions) or the State Water Board (for statewide applicability) can adopt general WDRs for categories of discharges if they determine that the discharges involve similar operations, types of waste, and treatment standards, and the discharges are “more appropriately” regulated under general WDRs than individual WDRs.
New Winery Order Impact and Overview
Prior to the New Winery Order, the North Coast RWQCB established its own wine, beverage, and food general WDR program, but there was no statewide general WDR for wineries. While it exempts wine facilities that produce less than 10,000 gallons per year of waste process, the New Winery Order applies statewide and establishes four tiers of discharges based on annual quantities; each tier has different discharge specifications and monitoring requirements (larger facilities are subject to stricter regulations). Though the State Water Board intends on making the New Winery Order the main permitting method for wine processing facilities, it only covers wine waste. Waste associated with beer, distillery, or other food and agricultural processing runoff (which the North Coast RWQCB’s regional wine, beverage, and food processor waste discharge general WDR still covers) would not qualify under the New Winery Order.
Existing wineries (except those with an existing individual WDR, coverage under an existing general WDR, or “conditional waivers” of a WDR) must seek coverage under the New Winery Order. Wineries operating under existing WDRs (both general or individual) or conditional waivers of a WDR can continue to discharge under that authority until those orders expire or come up for renewal. Facilities seeking coverage have until January 20, 2024, to file a Notice of Intent to comply with the New Winery Order. They then have five years after submitting their Notice of Intent to comply with the New Winery Order.
On top of other requirements, the New Winery Order lets RWQCBs require Tier 3 and 4 facilities to prepare costly site-specific nitrogen control plans. With this in mind, many wine professionals worry that the New Winery Order will further harm an industry that has recently faced significant challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic and wildfires.
As of February 8, 2021, the State Water Board has yet to post the final approved version of the New Winery Order. As such, analysis for this alert covers the draft final New Winery Order that the State Water Board released on December 2, 2020.