Although Kentucky is most famous for bourbon, the wine industry has a growing presence in the Commonwealth and is gaining recognition internationally – in fact, a Western Kentucky winery won Winemaker of the Year at a recent international wine competition. According to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA), there are currently 70 wineries in Kentucky and, as a whole, the industry produced an estimated 250,000 gallons of wine in 2016. KDA records show that the three most popular Kentucky-grown grapes in 2016 were, in terms of gallons of wine produced prior to blending, Chambourcin, Vidal Blanc, and Norton. Overall, a study found that the full economic impact of Kentucky wine and grapes was estimated to be $165.3 million in 2014. With the budding popularity of winemaking in Kentucky, the question (for me at least!) naturally turns to wastewater discharges from wineries. What do wineries do with their wastewater?

The State of Washington, which has over 900 licensed winemaking facilities, has proposed a statewide general permit that will cover wastewater discharges from these facilities. According to the preliminary fact sheet published by the State of Washington Department of Ecology, winemaking produces significant volumes of wastewater from a number of different activities, including:

  • Cleaning of tanks before and after racking
  • Rinsing of transfer lines
  • Barrel washing
  • Spent wine and product losses
  • Bottling sterilization
  • Filtration units
  • Laboratory wastewater
  • Hosing down of floors and equipment
  • Stormwater

Section 4.2 of the fact sheet reports that the industry standard for generation of wastewater from winemaking is:

Gallons of wastewater per year = (cases of wine per year) * (2.387 gallons of wine per case of wine) * (6 gallons of wastewater per gallon of wine)

The 250,000 gallons of Kentucky wine produced in 2016 would therefore result in 1.5 million gallons of wastewater. The fact sheet allows the permittee the option to demonstrate that their winemaking operation is more water efficient than the industry standard (for example, 3:1 instead of 6:1). Common methods for treatment of wastewater from wineries identified in the fact sheet include discharge to a publicly owned treatment works, land application by spray irrigation, treatment in a lagoon, dust suppression for unpaved roads, and underground infiltration. (For those who prefer to think outside the box, I previously explored the use of earthworms to treat wastewater from a vineyard in California.)

Will we see a similar general permit for wineries in Kentucky? Looking through the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection’s eSearch website, which allows the public to view permitting activities for regulated facilities, I found that only a handful of wineries are listed in the system. Digging further, I found only one winery that had been issued a permit from the Division of Water. In this case, the permit was a Kentucky No Discharge Operational Permit (KNDOP), meaning that the winery likely land applies their wastewater by spray irrigation. Therefore, given the very limited number of facilities that have been issued wastewater discharge permits from the Division of Water, it is unlikely that the seeds for a winery general permit in Kentucky will come to fruition any time soon. However, wineries should be aware that any discharge of wastewater requires a permit. If the discharge is to a publicly owned treatment works, then the municipality should be notified. Other discharge scenarios (e.g., offsite to a nearby stream or river, onsite by spray irrigation or underground infiltration) require notification to the Division of Water.

William Shane is an Environmental Engineer at Smith Management Group. William can be reached at