Winemakers in the Valle de Guadalupe of Baja California—where production is increasing as water resources get slimmer—are encouraged by the private Israeli-Mexican company, ODIS Asversa, to treat Tijuana water and send it through a 65-mile pipeline to their vineyards. The $77 million project would send 23 million gallons of treated wastewater to the region daily.
At a September 13 event in the Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California’s governor, Francisco Vega de Lamadrid, signed a pact with Fabian Yáñez, who oversees operations in Latin American for ODIS Asversa, who hopes the flow will begin in late 2019.
“Our water supply will be secured for 30 years, and I think it represents a breakthrough for Mexican agriculture,” Fernanado Pérez Castro, owner of Lomita and Finca La Carrodilla wineries and 3,000 acres of vineyard land, told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “We are very hopeful it will give us the opportunity to plant three times more grapes. ”
Though turning wastewater into wine sounds revolutionary, and perhaps revolting to some, the practice is a fixture of vineyards in Napa and Sonoma. Research by UC-Davis affirms that it has no negative impact on taste and health.
“The use of recycled water to irrigate vineyards in California is quite widespread, including in Mendocino County, Napa County, Sonoma County, the Central Valley and Southern California—essentially everywhere grapes are grown,” said Zachary Dorsey, a director of communications for WateReuse, an advocacy group.
The practice became possible after the Clean Water Act of 1972, which demanded that sanitary districts that discharge into fresh waters treat wastewater to tertiary levels—those that flush into the ocean can stay at the secondary level. Napa and Sonoma counties are the statewide leaders when it comes to vineyards, but other counties like Santa Cruz and Monterey also use wastewater to irrigate edible crops like strawberries and lettuce. And many estate wineries use their own treated wastewater.
“It’s a must-do these days,” explained Mark Millan, owner of Data Instincts, a consultancy that guides California municipalities on using recycled water. “This has been going on now for almost 30 years, and more aggressively in the last 12, especially during the drought period.”
Napa Sanitation District pumped 330 acre-feet of recycled water to vineyards last year, according to its technical services director, Andrew Damron who said, “Our distribution system continues to expand to meet the irrigation demands of vineyard properties.”
On California’s Central Coast, the City of Paso Robles is currently “full steam ahead” on a recycled water project that will irrigate vineyards, said Wastewater Manager Matt Thompson.
Data Instincts’ Millan recalled some reluctance to using recycled wastewater, especially in Carneros. “But when those drought years hit, everyone bellied up the bar,” he said. While the wineries aren’t proclaiming the practice on their labels, Millan said many do use it as part of their sustainability messaging.