Wednesday, July 8, 2020
July 8, 2020

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Winery turns to worms to treat its wastewater


Walla Walla — A Walla Walla winery is harnessing worm power for its wastewater treatment.

For the last several weeks, Northstar Winery has been treating its wastewater with BioFiltro’s Biodynamic Aerobic System in a process expected to allow the winery a green solution for treatment and reuse of the water.

BioFiltro, rooted in Chile and with offices in the U.S. and New Zealand, has its systems in 170 plants in eight countries.

Much of its treatment is used in dairy and food processing industries, as well as municipal water systems. In fact, a Washington dairy began using the system about four years ago. But Northstar is the first winery in Washington to use it, the company said.

In a demonstration late last week for other wine industry, municipal and business interests, BioFiltro co-founder Matias Sjogren held up two jars of water — one purple from the grapes, the other a clearer yellowish water after having been treated through the worms.

“All the solids are out,” he said, pouring the water from the clearer jar.

The process is one option as wineries explore ways to discharge wastewater, particularly with changed permitting guidelines through the state Department of Ecology.

DOE spent several years researching and developing a new general permit to monitor the discharge of wastewater from winemaking facilities. The permit was implemented in July and runs through July 1, 2024.

At Northstar, owned and operated by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, operators tried to reduce water usage with expanded production but ran into issues with pond capacity, said assistant winemaker Karin Gasparotti.

“It takes a lot (of water) to make wine, unfortunately,” Gasparotti told the crowd.

More specifically, winemaking is said to produce about 6 gallons of process water for every gallon of wine made.

The BioFiltro system at Northstar is anticipated to recycle about 283,200 gallons of wastewater each year.

Installation of the system was led by Walla Walla-based Organix Inc., the Northwest distribution partner for BioFiltro.

That includes pumping equipment, stations for monitoring the process and for the container systems where the digestive power of the worms takes place.

A diagram on the side of one of the units explains the process: The water is pumped into a storage tank and is fed into the first pass of the container system where the worms reduce the larger solids into smaller solids while producing microbes.

The microbes form a biofilm throughout the system. The biofilm is aerated by the worms as they burrow. Water flows through the wood shavings, and the biofilm captures and digests up to 99 percent of organic wastewater contaminants.

This particular system also sends the water through a second container and then into a storage pond, where the treated water can be used for irrigation.