Purifiying vineyard waste the natural way

This is the second in a series of stories showcasing the innovative things Ontario farmers are doing on their farms to improve the environment – in honour of Earth Day.

Constructed wetland in a Nigara vineyard helps treat wasteTough new regulations governing vineyard waste management meant the owners of Sixteen Mile Cellar in the Niagara Region had some tough choices to make.

Previously, small estate wineries were allowed to store the liquids and residues from their grape crush on-farm and then haul them away.

The rule change now requires waste treatment facilities on site, which can get very expensive very fast.

“For small wineries, this is a big burden. Even if you only crush grapes for one week of the year like we do, you have to provide waste treatment,” says Paul Vander Molen, Sixteen Mile Cellar’s farm property manager. “So we started searching for ideas that would address the waste issue properly but also be affordable.”

The solution was a constructed treatment wetland that uses nature to pre-treat the winery waste—wash water, grape liquids and stems and skins left over once the grapes are crushed—before it is disposed of.

The crush residue flows out of the winery into a holding tank and is then pumped into a four-chamber constructed treatment wetland that is located just outside of the main winery building.

The chambers are lined with rubber and filled with gravel and soil that filter and purify the grape waste.

From there, the remaining liquid goes into a pressurized septic system and then into a filter bed for release back into the environment.

An alternative option was an open system, but the potential for odour and the proximity to the winery building made this idea a non-starter.

treatment wetland - close up - web
Close up view of one end of the constructed treatment wetland at Sixteen Mile Cellar.

“Wineries, especially small estate wineries like this one, don’t produce a lot of waste but we still have to solve the problem of dealing with it,” Vander Molen says. “This solution is not only a good treatment option, but it will also provide a natural habitat for frogs and other wildlife once it is completed.”

The underground system was first used in 2012 and Vander Molen says it will ramp up to full capacity for the 2013 grape harvest.

This spring, cattails, bull rushes and iris will be planted on top of the wetland to complete its construction and give it a more natural look.

There are currently more than 1,000 constructed wetlands in North America being used to treat various waste streams, such as municipal wastewater and coal and metal mine drainage.

Sixteen Mile Cellar is one of the first wineries in Ontario that has been affected by the new rules and has adapted this type of a system using a wetland to pre-treat their winery waste.

He expects others will follow suit as they face compliance with the new regulations.

To help with the cost of constructing the wetland, Sixteen Mile Cellar accessed cost-share funding through the Canada-Ontario Farm Stewardship Program (COFSP).

COFSP provided cost-share funding for farmers to implement best management practices that provide environmental benefit onfarm.

Funding was available on a first come, first served basis to farmers who had a peer-reviewed Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) in place and had projects that have been approved under the program.

EFP and COFSP were funded under the Best Practices suite of programs of Growing Forward, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative.

The programs were administered by the Ontario Federation of Agriculture acting on behalf of the Ontario Farm Environmental Coalition. The Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association delivered the programs to farmers.

“The funding really helped us make this work. This project and some of the others we’ve done really fit into the concept of environmental goods and services and being a responsible producer,” says Vander Molen, referring to a tree planting initiative and the replacement of a failed culvert with a new stream bridge crossing to improve fish habitat that were both also completed on the same property recently.

Note: This story was originally prepared for and released by the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association.

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