Notice is a low-level enforcement action, could be an early step toward further enforcement

Klein Food Inc., the group that operates Rodney Strong Vineyards, recently received a notice of violation (NOV) of permit requirements from the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board in response to a wine spill that occurred earlier this year when a wine storage tank door failed releasing approximately 97,000 gallons of wine, some of which made its way into nearby Reiman Creek.

On Jan. 22, the racking door of a 100,000-gallon wine storage tank in the fermentation building of the Rodney Strong facility catastrophically failed and burst open, resulting in the rapid release of around 97,000 gallons of 2017 Alexander Valley Cabernet.

“This was a completely unexpected tank door failure, never before experienced at Rodney Strong Vineyards in over 60 years of making wine,” said Rodney Strong Communications Director Christopher O’Gorman.

According to the water quality control board notice, the wine flooded the entire building and overwhelmed the facility’s French drain system, which is meant to funnel much smaller spills to the onsite wastewater ponds. The wine flowed out of the roll up doors at both ends of the building and made its way into Reiman Creek.

Twenty percent of the spill was contained immediately. An estimated 45,000 gallons was reported to have gone into Reiman Creek, some of which made its way into the Russian River. An estimated 45,000 gallons went into the wastewater treatment pond.

By Rodney Strong estimates, 50% of the spill was contained and diverted from the waterways by Friday morning, Jan. 24.

The NOV, which was sent out on Sept. 22 to Klein Foods Inc. representative Larry Solomon, stipulates that the facility violated the “General Permit for Stormwater Discharges Associated with Industrial Activities,” and the Federal Clean Water Act.

“The NOV is a low-level enforcement action by the Regional Board. It identifies violations of permit requirements. It could be an early step as part of further enforcement, such as an administrative civil liability, which is a fine,” said Charles Reed of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.

O’Gorman said the notice essentially means the wine that spilled into the creek was unauthorized, “Against the rules, if you will.” 

The notice does not require Rodney Strong to take any action, according to Reed. The water board previously required the facility to submit information related to the spill and their cleanup response, and the facility did so promptly after the incident.

Shortly after the spill, facility staff and Rodney Strong personnel constructed a makeshift dam in Reiman Creek and set up a trash pump in order to capture and convey released wine into a manhole leading to a lift station to the wastewater treatment system.

They also hired a third-party wastewater maintenance and repair company to bring out Vactor trucks to assist with pumping wine from both sides of the dam and for transporting it to one of the wastewater processing ponds.

“From the very moment of the spill we called all of the regulatory agencies, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Healdsburg Fire, everybody, to get them out so we could work with them and be transparent about everything,” O’Gorman said. “As soon as we knew what was going on it was all hands on deck by our facilities and maintenance team to protect the waterways. We diverted every bit that we could into our wastewater ponds on site, but we do know that some portion of the wine did make it down eventually into the Russian River.”

Per request by regional water board staff, Rodney Strong collected samples in Reiman Creek from both up and downstream from where the spill entered the creek.

According to the NOV, analytical results showed slightly higher levels of total dissolved solids, total suspended solids, oils and grease and “biochemical oxygen demand in the downstream sample consistent with residual impacts from the spill.”

Results from the downstream sampling also found that the water quality sampling did not show “exceedances of water quality standards set forth in the Water Quality Control Plan for the North Coast Region.”     

During the inspection after the spill water board staff did observe several dead earthworms in Reiman Creek along with wine staining throughout the area of the creek where the wine entered and to where Reiman meets Sotoyome Creek and for a short distance downstream approximately 600 feet.

“Representatives from the Russian Riverkeepers organization — who have 50 volunteers monitoring the Russian River from our winery to the Pacific Ocean — and the California Department of Fish & Wildlife both reported late on Thursday, Jan. 23 that four separate indicators of system health – frogs, water strider bugs, steelhead trout and local birds – were all present and unaffected 24 hours after the spill,” O’Gorman noted.

Ken Paglia, an information officer for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, told The Tribune in January that there weren’t any immediate impacts to fish and wildlife.

Paglia said this can be due to the fact that the wine was diluted.

“Wine is pretty soluble,” he said, and since Reiman Creek was flowing more rapidly than normal due to heavy rain that occurred around the time of the spill the wine was diluted.

Paglia said wine can often affect the pH level of water, as well as dissolve its oxygen levels, which can harm fish, however, he said they have not seen that in this case.

O’Gorman said the winery is now working on various mitigation measures to help prevent future spills, including hiring an outside engineer firm to evaluate and implement ways to prevent similar accidents, modifying the outside drainage system and pumps, installing curbs to hold back wine and installing berms and bypass lines.

They are also implementing extra training for personnel and conducting tests on the tank that failed to figure out what went wrong.

“We don’t know how or why it failed and it (the tank) was sent down to Southern California and three separate entities are running tests on it to figure out why, but that process has been delayed due to COVID-19,” O’Gorman said

The fermentation cellar facility that contained the failed tank also housed several other similar tanks and in an abundance of caution all of the tanks were immediately emptied according to O’Gorman. Wine from that particular facility is now being stored off site.  

“It (the spill) has resulted in significant financial loss, including the wine, costs paid to consultants, engineers, and attorneys, and all the measures we have taken and are still working on,” O’Gorman said.

Reed said the water board is still investigating whether or not they will take additional enforcement measures. He said there isn’t a clear timetable on that decision yet.


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