Talon News - Good Local News

By Jacque Ritchie



October 5, 2018

By Jacque Ritchie

Award winning local vintner, Wines of the San Juan recently fell under the scrutiny of the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) for allegedly releasing untreated wastewater into the San Juan River at their vineyard on NM 511 near Turley. According to concerned local residents the suspected pollution has been going on for years. "This land and this water is sacred to us, we are like stewards, it is our job to preserve it," said an area resident who wished to remain anonymous. The local folks TALON spoke with including long-time local fly-fishermen expressed concern about the situation but declined to comment on the record because, "The (Arnold) family brings a lot of money into the area."

Originally from Wisconsin, Marcia and David Arnold established the vineyard in 2001 and have enjoyed some critical success. According to a recent press release the winery's 2014 cabernet sauvignon captured Double Gold at the 2018 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition in New York.

Exclusive to TALON, New Mexico Evironment Department Cabinet Secretary Butch Tongate said in a May 23 interview, "The bottom line is that the land-owner was in violation of NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System). "He was operating without a permit," explained Tongate.

NPDES is a permit program authorized by Section 402 of the Clean Water Act. Notably, Tongate reported that although representatives from NMED did visit the site on April 4 of this year, no soil or water samples were collected or tested to determine actual contamination levels. "NMED does not have primacy (enforcement control) over any surface-water in the state, that's all on the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). So it wouldn't make a difference if we collected samples." NMED sent a report of their findings to EPA Region 6 office in Dallas. Further, Tongate explained that his department has no authority to levy fines, order clean-up or enforce any EPA regulation violations. Because the NMED report contains no actual numbers on polution levels, it begs the question: How does the EPA determine what is an appropriate enforcement solution (i.e. fines, clean up orders)? To view the NMED inspection report submitted to USEPA go to; Wines of San Juan epa report.

In an effort to get answers, TALON contacted USEPA Information Officer Jennah Durant at Region 6. Durant said, "It is our policy to not comment on enforcement cases until they are resolved." Follow up calls to USEPA have not been returned at press-time.

In New Mexico residents and commercial entities must adhere to regulation NMAC 20.7.3 which states, an entity is in violation if it; does not provide a level of treatment at least as effective as that provided by an on-site liquid waste system that meets the requirements of NMAC 20.7.3 or that poses a hazard to public health or degrades a body of water. Tongate said he was not familiar with NMAC 20.7.3 and could not comment about any possible violation in this case.

The Nixon-era Clean Water Act was enacted in 1972, at that time all the states had the opportunity to take on stewardship and responsibility for their state's sovereign surface water, "But for some reason New Mexico did not go that way." Tongate concluded, "Well, I'm confident that the situation (at Wines of San Juan) will not continue...the land-owner understands that he was in violation and is taking steps to rectify the situation."

"We are very concerned about the environment," said Wines of San Juan owner/operator David Arnold in an interview with TALON. "If I had any idea that this would be a problem I would have done this years ago," Arnold explained as he showed-off a newly installed 3000 gallon plastic collection tank. Arnold said he hoped that the wastewater generated will be transported to the Farmington Wastewater Treatment Plant (FWTP) for processing, explaining that wastewater samples had to be tested to make sure the wastewater treatment plant could accept the wineries effluent. Arnold claimed that, "The only thing in the water was, hot water and grape juice maybe some bird poop, you know some dirt, basically whatever washes off the grapes...for this part of the process we use 180 degree water." Arnold said that no "solids" are present in the wastewater and all the pulp from "the crush" is composted and used as fertilizer in the field.

Arnold stressed that his vineyard nor any of the vineyards, where he buys supplemental fruit, use any chemical pesticides or commercial fertilizers. "We are totally organic...When we sanitize the lines we generally use vodka or sometimes hydrogen peroxide. We absolutely do not use any chemical detergents or solvents." Several calls by TALON to FWTP regarding the wineries wastewater test results were unsuccessful at press time.

Dr. Bruce Zoeklein, Professor Emeritus, Virginia Tech contends in his 2011 scholarly paper, Winery Wastewater:

Winery wastewater generally contains, inorganic salts, organic components, yeast, and bacteria, Total Suspended Solids (TSS), Total Dissolved Solids (TDS can adversely effect crops), Nitrogen, Nitrate, Phosphorous, and Sulfate. The BOD represents an organic load, primarily of a soluble nature consisting of alcohols and sugars. (Zoeklein,Wine/Enology, Grape Chemistry Group, VA Tech,.2011)

Since the NMED did not test the wastewater being released into the San Juan River or the surrounding soil, it is unclear what level of contamination (if any) was present.

Dr. Zoeklein writes, "wineries particularly in arid regions should be mindful of sustainability and wise use of our most precious resource, water." The professor recommends wineries develop a "Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Plan" as a way to monitor their "Energy footprint."

According to Zoeklein, wineries typically generate 16 to 20 liters of effluent for every ton of fruit crushed. Wines of San Juan vineyard reportedly produces about 10 tons of red and white varietal grapes on their 40 acre property each year, supplementing the harvest with another 60 tons of grapes from Deming and around Santa Fe. According to Arnold the winery produces around 3,000 cases of wine annually.

The pollution generated from wineries may cause an increase of BOD (Biological Oxygen Demand) in the water which means there is less oxygen in the water for fish and supporting aquatic life.

Water technologies giant Xylem Inc., Rye Brook, New York reports; "The greater the BOD the more rapidly oxygen is depleted." Elevated BOD in water systems can have many causes from PH levels, water temperature or organic and inorganic materials. The result Xylem reports is, "Organisms become stressed, suffocate and die."

BOD levels are typically used to gauge water quality and generally expressed in milligrams per liter. Domestic wastewater generally contains around 200mg/L. Winery wastewater may contain 7,700mg/L but can measure as high as 100,000 mg/L.

Dan Williams of New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) said that a NMDGF crew visited the site of the alleged violation on April 19, 2018, "We went out there and the good news is, we found no evidence of significant fish kill." Another highly-placed NMDGF source said, "I am not at liberty to speak about this. Everything has to go through the governor's office. We've been told not say anything to the press which is absolutely ludicrous especially in the case of illegal dumping. Our country needs a viable free press to keep everything above-board, it's a really alarming the way things are going. It's shameful."


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