Of Wine And Wastewater
The state water board says Chateau Julien's wastewater treatment system needs improvement.
Thursday, June 15, 2000
Full of It
In the middle of a lush vineyard five miles inland on Carmel Valley Road, a building resembling a medieval French castle rises from the valley floor. The castle and the 16 acres surrounding it make up the charming Chateau Julien Wine Estate, which in its 18 years of existence has served as a visual gateway to Carmel Valley wine country.
But for all its Old World appeal, Chateau Julien has some modern problems. Beneath a veneer of grace and grandeur, the winery has, according to the California Regional Water Quality Control Board staff, some potentially serious shortcomings in its wastewater treatment facilities. High concentrations of dissolved minerals, such as sodium, calcium and sulfates, left in improperly treated wastewater may be seeping into the sensitive Carmel Valley aquifer and affecting the quality of water drawn from nearby wells.
During a review of the winery''s waste standards, which hadn''t been updated in 17 years, board staff discovered a number of inconsistencies in the winery''s estimates of how much wastewater it generates. Although the board needs to collect more data, there appears to be no immediate health risk. "I don''t think at these levels it''s dangerous," says Tom Kukol, an engineer with the state water board, "but it''s approaching the upper limit of drinking water standards."
The winery, which sometimes hosts banquets and weddings, has two separate wastewater systems: one includes two septic tanks and leach fields to process domestic waste from sinks and toilets; the other involves percolation ponds to process industrial waste produced during grape crushing, bottling and equipment washing. Normally, waste products in the water are naturally treated by microorganisms in the soil. However, both systems may be overloaded.
According to water board reports, Chateau Julien has been underreporting its capacity and underestimating the amount of wastewater it processes. "[Water board] staff doesn''t have a lot of faith in [Chateau Julien''s] estimates," says Kukol.
For example, according to a June 2 letter from the water board to Chateau Julien''s former consultant, the restrooms reported by the winery for employee use only are also available to guests during events for up to 400 people.
Chateau Julien owner Bob Brower says events hosted at the winery are intermittent and short-lived--not enough toilet-flushing and hand-washing, he says, to overload the septic system. "You''re talking about a very low incidence of usage," he says.
And, he points out, wastewater produced in the wine-making process contains only natural, biodegradable compounds.
However, to better address water quality issues, Brower has hired an engineering firm to conduct accurate tests. "We''re trying to get away from the guesswork," he says. "We''re doing everything we can to put any fears to rest."
At a May 19 meeting, board staff presented a number of recommendations, including digging water quality monitoring wells, installing meters to gauge wastewater flows, and having water samples analyzed by a lab. At that meeting, Chateau Julien requested more time to gather information, and the board continued a decision on the recommendations.
But Brower says he''s not waiting for the state to tell him what to do. He''s already implementing some of the recommendations on his own. "We''re in the process of digging [the water quality monitoring wells] now, in advance of being required to," he says. "We''re good stewards of the land; this is our valley too."
At this point, Kukol says it look like Chateau Julien may need several months to comply with board standards, but progress is coming along. "It appears Chateau Julien is going in the direction we want now. As long as they are making concessions, we''ll give them the time."