Everyone thinks “California” when someone mentions wine made in the U.S. Yes, the nation’s fourth-largest state produces more wine than any other state. But a neighbor to the north is closing the gap.

Since 2009, Washington vintners have contributed more than $1 billion to the state’s economy. The industry’s growing 8.5% a year, making Washington the second‐largest wine producing state in the country.

Jobs related to grape growing and wine making are at an all-time high. Unfortunately, so are less-desirable consequences of growth. Uninhibited by regulation, each vineyard developed its own practice for wine processing and water/wastewater treatment. Methods for pretreating winery process wastewater vary from winery to winery.

The Washington State Department of Ecology is working on a Winery General Permit for wastewater, but the draft permit won’t be released until March 2017. In the meantime, winery owners are spending large amounts on wastewater evaluations and pretreatment design and construction, each re‐inventing the wheel at a premium price. With pretreatment facility costs often exceeding anticipated revenues, producers had four options: don’t pretreat wastewater; move somewhere pretreatment isn’t required; don’t expand operations in Washington; or, when looking to locate a facility, don’t choose Washington.

The City of West Richland, population 14,340, is a bedroom community located between the Richland, Kennewick, and Pasco Tri-Cities and world-renowned Red Mountain American Viticulture Area. In 2008, with the U.S. in recession, wineries and tourism were the area’s few economic bright spots.

The city is home to three alcohol manufacturers: Vinmotion Wines, which produces 600,000 cases a year; Red Mountain Wine Estates, which produces 165,000 cases; and Black Heron Distillery, southeastern Washington’s first distillery. City leaders wanted to retain these businesses and attract new ones by providing a centrally located facility for treating and disposing of process water. Instead of forcing producers to make major capital investments that could hinder additional growth, they decided to install a city‐owned and -operated treatment facility with a designated collection system separate from the city’s sewer infrastructure.

Even the sweetest wine has waste.

In 2008/2009, the city’s wastewater treatment plant had been expanded from 0.75 mgd to 1.5 mgd. Even so, the facility couldn’t accommodate additional organic loading without major upgrades. Achieving the city’s goal led to an unconventional collaboration between industry, regulators, and public works that should inspire any community looking to foster growth on a tight budget.

It Takes Money to Make Money

In 1985, Washington’s Commerce Department formed a State Public Works Board and launched the Public Works Trust Fund (PWTF) to provide low-interest revolving loans for infrastructure construction and rehabilitation. Eligible projects must improve health and safety, respond to environmental issues, promote economic development, and/ or upgrade system performance.

An Infrastructure Assistance Coordinating Council (IACC) comprised of state and federal agencies, local government associations, tribes, and nonprofit technical assistance organizations helps local jurisdictions find and access resources like the PWTF. In October 2009, information from the IACC’s annual conference helped West Richland get a $40,000 U.S. Commerce Department Economic Development Administration grant to study how doubling treatment capacity would affect the local economy.

In March 2010, the study found that a dedicated facility that could treat wastewater produced in the manufacture of 2.5 million cases of wine a year and eventually expand to 5 million cases would:

  • Create an estimated 75 direct jobs and 1,185 revenue-generated jobs with an annual payroll totaling $35 million
  • Generate regional capital investment of $27 million with estimated annual business revenues of $290 million
  • Raise more than $2 million in a one-time sales tax (during construction) and more than $7 million annually via worker spending
  • Generate more than $292,000 in annual property taxes for state and local jurisdictions.

However, the study also confirmed the city’s recently expanded treatment plant would reach capacity in less than 10 years instead of 20 years if it began treating winery wastewater. The patented Biolac system extends solids retention to create an extremely stable and easily operated sludge-processing system. Introduced by Parkson Corp. of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., more than 25 years ago, the system’s optimal biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) concentration is 250 mg/l, not the 7,000 mg/l typical during winery crush and barrel-racking operations.

While not a feasible long-term solution, the existing plant could temporarily handle winery wastewater while the city’s Public Works Department oversaw the design, permitting, and construction of an Industrial Wastewater Treatment Plant (I-Plant).

The $3.2 million project was to be located on 20 acres of donated land within a 325-acre industrial and retail park and use aerated lagoons and evaporation ponds for treatment.

Funding it became a top strategic focus.

Plans Encounter Major Setback

In May 2010, the city applied for a $2 million PWTF loan. In September 2011, after the application was approved, the city council authorized the loan’s execution. With funding secured, public works prepared to hire an engineering consultant to design the facility.

Then they hit a snag.

Ownership of the project site had changed between the loan application and execution. After spending more than a year unsuccessfully negotiating with the new property owner, public works moved to Plan B: the Port of Kennewick’s 92-acre former Tri-City Raceway. Public works and port employees worked for another year, but couldn’t overcome one fatal flaw: The property was outside the city’s growth boundary and there wasn’t enough time to change the boundary by the loan’s September 2016 project-completion deadline.

Nearly two years had gone by since the loan’s execution. By January 2014, it seemed clear the city would have to return the loan. But the mayor, council, and public works weren’t ready to throw in the towel.

During the previous two years, public works employees had toured facilities in northern California that treat winery effluent. Because of high land values, many are on small footprints, typically less than an acre, and use a membrane bioreactor (MBR) or similar technology.

Now public works began exploring a similar solution. Preliminary analysis showed the city could acquire land and build an MBR facility within the original $3.2 million project budget that could expand from treating effluent from the annual production of 2.5 million cases to 5 million cases of wine.

Momentum Restored

In June 2014, the city bought an acre of private property in the middle of an undeveloped commercial/light industrial zone. The new site was superior to the previous site because it expanded the city’s potential gravity-sewer service area from 325 acres to more than 500 acres.

With 2-1/2 years left, a consultant was hired the same month. Selection was based on experience, employee qualifications, and the ability to meet the project’s aggressive deadlines. Unfortunately, the firm couldn’t meet project milestones. The contract was terminated in January 2015 and a new consulting team, Wallace Group of San Luis Obispo, Calif., and the Kennewick, Wash., office of J-U-B Engineers was hired in April 2015.

Because of the tight budget and timeline, public works did a pre-qualification step before design where equipment manufacturers submitted proposals based on a treatment-specification package. The plant’s design was then completed around the selected manufacturer. Equipment was then pre-purchased by the city, rather than the contractor, to save on mark-up. Public works then went through a standard bid process that included an “Owner-Furnished, Contractor-Installed” specification for installation of the manufacturer’s equipment.

The project relieves wineries of building expensive onsite pretreatment facilities without taxing the municipal wastewater treatment plant.

Cloacina LLC of Arroyo Grande, Calif., was selected. The design team worked on completing construction plans and specifications around the Industrial Mempac. The 50,000 gpd “package” MBR system includes an influent lift station, screening, influent storage tanks, modular biological treatment tanks, effluent storage tanks, and solids dewatering. All of it fits neatly inside a pre-engineered metal building large enough to double capacity by duplicating the system within an adjoining building.

Influent and effluent tanks were incorporated into the design so operators can store and discharge flows at night, when collection system and municipal wastewater treatment plant demands are low.

This is a creative solution that maximizes existing asset utilization without negatively impacting its service life.

By regaining 10 years of capacity, West Richland’s Biolac Wastewater Treatment Plant can support residential and commercial development through 2029. In addition, the MBR facility’s storage capabilities will enable the city to put treated effluent to beneficial use should it decide to do so in the future.

Payback Time!

Construction was completed Apollo Inc. of Kennewick, Wash., in August 2016, a month before deadline and just in time for the 2016 crush season. Since then, goals outlined in West Richland’s 2010 Economic Development Study are becoming a reality.

Effluent from Vinmotion Wines and Red Mountain Wine Estates was immediately directed to the new plant. Owned by Crimson Wine Group in Napa, Calif., Double Canyon broke ground on a $6 million facility that will ramp up from 40,000 cases to 100,000 cases a year.

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