4 The record articles

Distillery Discharges and Local Wastewater Permitting Concerns

Posted: September 6th, 2022

Authors: William S. 

A new distillery project requires significant planning: a suitable site must be found, design consultants must be engaged, and environmental permits must be obtained. When considering permitting requirements, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and United States (U.S.) Army Corps of Engineers permitting most often come to mind. However, local permitting requirements for wastewater discharges to the Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTW) can be easy to overlook. These permits might be referred to as industrial user (IU) discharge permits, state indirect discharge permits, or pretreatment permits. In some areas permitting is handled directly by the local municipality, while in others permitting is handled by the state regulatory agency. Regardless, authorization to discharge will likely be required. Permitting lead times vary by municipality, but in all cases an application should be filed in advance of commencement of discharge.

It is recommended to initiate communication with the municipality during the design and construction phase of the project, because the municipality can require installation of monitoring equipment (e.g., flow meter and sampling manhole) and wastewater treatment systems (e.g., flow equalization tanks and pH adjustment) to demonstrate compliance with permit requirements. Flow equalization tanks are commonly used and allow facilities to retain process wastewater and discharge at a consistent rate or in a batch discharge. In the event of a spill or leak, equalization tanks also allow potentially contaminated wastewater to be held until a determination can be made on whether the wastewater may be discharged or should be shipped off site for disposal.

There are three general types of industrial dischargers: Significant Industrial Users (SIUs), Categorical Industrial Users (CIUs), and general permit users. SIUs are any industry that discharges more than 25,000 gallons per day of process wastewater, which would apply to most distilleries. CIUs are specific industries identified in 40 CFR §§400-471 subject to Effluent Limitations Guidelines (ELGs) established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) (e.g., Metal Finishing in 40 CFR §433). Finally, the municipality may issue a general permit to industries that do not qualify as a SIU or CIU.

The distillery’s wastewater discharge will likely not be subject to specific ELGs; however, the facility will be subject to the municipality’s local limits. Local limits apply to industrial users and address the specific needs and concerns of the POTW, its sludge, and its receiving waters. Local limits are unique to each POTW and can vary even between POTWs in the same municipality. In addition, the distillery discharge may be subject to surcharge limits in the municipality’s Sewer Use Ordinance (SUO). Discharges in the excess of the surcharge limit are typically not a violation but are billed based on a formula established in the SUO. Surcharge limits are most commonly developed for 5-day Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD-5), Total Suspended Solids (TSS), and Ammonia, of which BOD-5 is often the pollutant of most concern for distilleries.

Finally, a significant challenge for distilleries is disposal of stillage, a mixture of water and grain solids produced in large quantities during fermentation. The most common method of disposal is to dewater the mixture and rely on local farmers to collect and use the stillage as a livestock feed. Other disposal methods may be available, such as discharging stillage to the POTW. The municipality can identify whether the POTW has capability to handle the proposed stillage discharge and, if so, associated permitting requirements. Regular communication with the municipality will help the distillery answer this and other questions and assure startup of the distillery goes as smoothly as possible.

ALL4 provides a wide range of services to the Spirits Industry including not only wastewater, but full service permitting and compliance along with digital solutions and ESG.  If you have any questions about local wastewater permitting for distilleries and how ALL4 can help, please contact William Shane (wshane@all4inc.com).


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