Costs and Challenges of Treating and Storing Winery Wastewater

With so many risks associated with directly releasing winery wastewater, it clearly needs careful handling and storage. Yet, with thousands of gallons produced each day by many facilities, even during non-peak periods, it’s also impossible to simply just keep storing an endless supply of wastewater. Planning and designing storage ponds for eventual discharge, or to process for future reuse, is necessary to create just the right amount of short and long-term storage. Many new wineries greatly underestimate the amount of wastewater storage needed until their tanks or ponds are full. Building new water storage solutions in a hurry costs far more than just planning them properly from the beginning. Make sure your budget and storage designs account for these common costs, and challenges, of storing winery wastewater.

Load Variations

No matter the industry, or the liquid, it’s always easier to store steady supplies of wastewater than intermittent surges. Unfortunately, the wine making process tends to produce far more surges than steady streams of wastewater. This is due to the concentration of washing and sanitizing done both during the initial stages of crushing and filtering juice and then again at the end after further filtering of sediment and dead yeast cells. Wastewater composition can vary greatly between seasons as well; making it hard to plan out the exact treatment processes needed for each stage or on a month to month basis. Separate treatment ponds, for crush season and off-season wastewater, may work better for you than a shared pond. Alternately, you may need to connect treatment processes to smart sensor systems tracking water quality as it enters.

High Levels of Solids

The high levels of both dissolved and suspended solids in winery wastewater doesn’t just make it an environmental risk, it also complicates the storage process. Clogs are particularly likely in pumps and piping without oversized clearance for clumps of pulp and sediment. Filters designed to capture these solids also backfire when they’re full and wastewater can’t pass by to reach the pond. Large capacity box, baffle, and roller filters can capture more solids before clogging to prevent problems further down in the system. They’ll still need daily or even hourly cleaning during peak sediment and pomace loads but may only need occasional cleaning throughout the remainder of the year.

Organic Sludge Build-Up

The same sludge, that makes winery wastewater damaging to local waterways, also interferes with its storage and processing. Even the largest ponds and tanks quickly lose volume when sediment layers grow rapidly with each new flush of water. At the very least, plan for dredging every few months from the very beginning. Keeping sludge layers also encourages more circulation between upper and lower water layers. Some sludge should stay at the bottom of the pond, to host the beneficial microbes needed for waste treatment, but don’t let more than a few inches build up since it reduces the total volume of the pond.

Desirable vs Unwanted Bacteria and Other Microorganisms

While you do want certain bacteria, yeast, and other microorganisms to flourish to break down the organic material in the wastewater, other microbes stop the treatment process or create surprising amounts of offensive odors. Winery wastewater can smell as bad as any sewage or manure slurry if the wrong mixture of microorganisms dominates the liquid. Balancing out the microbes usually requires control over temperature, dissolved oxygen levels, light exposure, and the balance of water to solids in the waste flow. All of these are easily controlled with the right type of pond. You may need covers, insulation, shade screens, and extra filters to better balance the bacterial life in the pond, but they’re small investments for faster and more complete processing with little to no smell. Impermeable pond liners are a necessity to control the balance of microorganisms in the water.

Unauthorized Access

As with all waste ponds, unauthorized access by humans or animals can lead to big problems. Even well-designed holding ponds, with safety features, can pose a drowning hazard. If small to large wildlife fall into the ponds, they can clog the processing equipment and cause odor issues. Livestock that is hurt by attempting to access the pond can also cost the winery money due to recuperation costs required to the nearby farmers. Simple fencing, with hog wire, topped with barbed wire, is recommended by many states for all wastewater ponds; including wineries. Make sure to add signage to clearly indicate the water is waste and not potable or safe for swimming. Post the signs every few hundred feet so they’re visible from every direction.

Spills, Leaks and Seepage

Even the best designed storage ponds and tanks are prone to develop leaks and spills over time. Collapsed berms, punctured and torn liners, and the use of permeable building materials all contribute to the loss of wastewater over time. Since each release of raw, winery wastewater can result in a fine or fee from regulating bodies, it’s best to build redundancies into the system to keep leaks and spills from reaching open water or soil. The use of an impermeable liner material is also important to keep seepage from becoming a problem from the start. Look for a non-woven, reinforced material that can handle the acidity of the wastewater mixture.

Don’t let a costly wastewater management system put your winery into debt. Plan for the costs from the beginning and scale up slowly to manage the costs of installing new storage ponds. If you don’t have the space for open ponds, you’ll need to secure alternative storage or discharge arrangements or find a new property. To save money on flexible liners, that will last for decades with minimal maintenance, reach out to us at BTL Liners for our recommendations.


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