Biology Aids Winery Wastewater Treatment
Jordan, Ontario—Wastewater is flushed with pride at a 55,000-case Ontario winery, thanks to an innovative biological treatment system that can accommodate tight spaces and budgets. Cave Spring Cellars occupies 145-year-old premises on the main street of Jordan, a community in the heart of Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula. But current regulations governing wastewater management prompted it to pilot a treatment system in 2013 to update handling of effluent from its production processes. Similar to regulations now under development in Washington state (see “Washington State Drafting Wastewater Permit”), a tightening of regulations in Ontario led Niagara regional government staff to stop allowing wineries to store wastewater on site. This in turn forced wineries to send wastewater into the municipal system, which levied fees if the discharge had a biological oxygen demand (BOD) exceeding 350 milligrams per liter (see “Wineries Float Ideas for Treating Waste”). Cave Springs faced processing costs of approximately $6,000 in addition to discharge fees in the range of $5,000, costs it felt it could reduce through better handling practices. “We tried doing it in house to no success,” said Dave Hooper, operations manager with Cave Spring. “I was tasked with trying to come up with a solution. It was daunting.” At the time Hooper was sitting on the Wine Council of Ontario’s sustainability committee, which was working with the Bloom Centre in Mississauga, Ontario, to address wastewater issues. Jay Mullin, project manager at Bloom, introduced Hooper to Rob Davis, president of EcoEthic Inc., which saw potential application for the BioGill, a device developed in Australia. “We brought a pilot in,” Hooper said. “It was supposed to be six weeks, and it ended up being a year and a half. During that timeframe we saw our BODs drop dramatically.” Indeed, oxygen demand dropped from as high as 6,000 milligrams per liter to just 48 milligrams per liter, well below the threshold that would trigger municipal charges. The cost was also well below competing systems such as a sequencing batch reactor, for which Cave Spring received quotes as high as $900,000, not including construction; the BioGill was tagged at $160,000. The system was more compact. A sequencing batch reactor would have required digging up an adjacent parking lot, but the compact BioGill system could be housed beneath Cave Spring’s crush pad. Construction of the processing facility began in April, and installation took six weeks, concluding at the end of September. The system—the first installed in North America—became operational last week. Wastewater flows down from the crush pad into a settling tank; from here, the effluent moves through two processing tanks where the composition is balanced for easier filtration. The second tank feeds the effluent into the BioGill units, where it flows across membranes where various microorganisms will munch on the carbon and reduce the BODs over the course of 22 hours. “They’re the biological part of the BioGill,” Hooper told Wines & Vines during a site visit last week as the system kicked into gear. “We basically create our own mini environment in here where they’re eating all of the carbon source.” Better yet, the system is self-sustaining; the culture of microorganisms forms a layer on the membrane that’s more than a half-inch thick. Dead cells become part of the effluent, and the remaining organisms continue to feed on the water until it’s devoid of nutrients. “Throughout the latter times of the cycle, as the BOD drops in the wastewater, any of the remaining nutrients, including dead cell mass, are consumed by the microorganisms,” Davis said. “By the time the cycle is totally over, a lot of that dead cell mass has been metabolized.” The result is very clean water, and a minimal amount of sludge for disposal. A septic tank cleaner removes solids that drop out in the initial tank, while the sludge remaining at the end of the process—really, just a fine black powder—amounts to about 1 liter per month. Hooper expects to make fewer calls to the septic handlers with the new system; rather than 10 times per year, he expects it to be closer to four, three or even less. “We’ve changed some things upstairs so we’re putting less solids down the drain,” he said. We’re “sending them treated water, so the region is going to have less of a burden on them to treat that water.” The next big step will be to see if some extra value is recoverable from the lees currently going down the drain. “One of the biggest mind changes is migrating away from assuming it’s a waste to assuming it could have value,” said Mullin, who said wineries may be able to recover wine from water that’s currently considered too polluted to have value. “We’re going to keep working with Rob to refine the process,” Hooper said, even though he says the changes made to date have already been a big help. “It’s amazing how much cleaner the footprint of the winery is compared to what it was.” A ribbon-cutting for the new equipment will be held at Cave Spring on Oct. 29.
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