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Winery wastewater: Converting a Liability into an Asset, Compost Tea

Newsletter Winery Wastewater Solutions by Elutriate Systems

 Dear Winery Owners, Winery Managers, Wine Makers and concerned others,

Keywords; Bio Dynamic Agriculture, Compost Tea, Winery Wastewater Management, Bio Reactors.

 Winery wastewater management is increasingly becoming an ever-growing concern of wine production.  The wastewater generated by a winery is high in BOD (biological oxygen demand), which occurs due to high levels of dissolved sugars.  The wineries discharging to land are facing an ever-decreasing level of acceptance from the state, local sewer facilities and neighbors from the resulting odors.  The purpose of this brief is to shed light that the perception of winery wastewater as only a negative byproduct of the winery is not correct and can actually be utilized as an asset.

Several wineries are embracing a newer or rather a more recent resurgence of interest in a method of agriculture utilizing Bio Dynamic agriculture.  This is a very sustainable practice and actually embraces the soil and all of the microbes contained within.  This is a marked departure from the newer post WW 2 method of agriculture, when excess petroleum stocks were converted to pesticides. 

 High BOD effluent can actually be utilized as a growth medium for beneficial bacteria similar to growing bacteria in a petri dish with auger.  When a combination of high BOD effluent and beneficial bacteria is aerated the bacteria flourish as the sugars are digested.  The resulting soup is known as “Compost Tea”.  Most folks know the benefits of using compost on gardens, what is actually beneficial are the bacteria and nutrients that are added to the soil.  “Compost Tea” is a method of growing, propagating and concentrating the beneficial bacteria, which in turn is added to the soil.  By increasing the beneficial bacteria (aerobic) in the soil, nutrient uptake is increased, while bad bacteria (anaerobic, rot) is overwhelmed and displaced.  These beneficial bacteria can also be utilized as a foliate spray.  The result is a reduction/elimination of both fertilizers and pesticides.

 The reader is encouraged to do a web search on “Compost Tea”.  The thousands of sites available will further illuminate the method and benefits of this wonder brew.

As you may well know, I am on a ceaseless campaign promoting Bio Reactors as the method for reducing winery effluent.  These systems utilize very efficient fine bubble diffusers, tanks, rotary blowers and a clarifier to capture the bacteria and return it to the incoming high BOD waste stream.  This is known as return activated sludge.  The bacteria in this process is concentrated and as there are a lot more critters eating at the food supply (BOD) the digestion rate is high, resulting in smaller retained volume i.e. a smaller system, which requires less aeration and 5 times less electricity than a pond system.  In short the savings are compounded and operational costs reduced.  The byproduct is “Compost Tea” and can be fed into the irrigation system for large-scale distribution.

 I feel that engineers who lack this insight have installed and promoted the popular ponding systems, utilized by most wineries.  This is a direct carryover of traditional fecal sewer plants.  Whereas in sewer plants the bacteria produced is not beneficial (containing pathogens), the ponds are designed to be facultative where the bacteria is allowed to settle to the bottom and be digested in an anaerobic (without oxygen) fashion.  However there is a marked difference between sewer waste (fecal) and winery waste (sugar water), seems pretty obvious.  Furthermore the resulting ponding systems are large in size, (waste valuable winery acreage), utilize inefficient floating aerators (rotary blowers use 5 times less electricity), and fill up with sludge requiring dredging.

 In closing review your wastewater operation, for new wineries investigate Bio Reactors, for existing wineries pursue adding Bio Reactors upstream from established ponding system.  Pursue Bio Dynamic practices and sustainable agriculture utilizing “Compost Tea”.  We are only stewards of the land, and guardians for our children.