More than 97,000 gallons of red wine spilled from a storage tank at a California vineyard and leaked into the Russian River, causing local water officials to worry of environmental damage.
The cabernet sauvignon -enough to fill more than 500,000 bottles- spilled from a Rodney Strong Vineyard’s storage tank in Healdsburg on Wednesday around 1.30pm.
A two-foot wide oval door near the bottom of a 100,000-gallon wine tank popped open, spilling between 46,000 and 96,000 gallons of wine into the river before it was sealed again.
This wine spill may be the biggest in the county’s history and most certainly the last two decades, Don McEnhill, executive director of nonprofit Russian Riverkeeper, told Press Democrat.
McEnhill added that he can’t recall a spill of the magnitude reaching the Russian River.
As much as 96,000 gallons of cabernet sauvignon spilled into the Russian River in Sonoma County, California, after a storage tank leaked Wednesday
Rodney Strong spokesman Chris O’Gorman revealed the company is conducting an internal investigation and cooperating with authorities.
He said: ‘We are deeply concerned and are doing everything in our power to protect our waterways.’
First, the wine drained into an inlet on the floor of the winery’s production building and then traveled through hundreds of feet of underground pipes that empty into four wastewater ponds on the premises.
The red wine traveled through several miles of underground pipes, wastewater ponds and Reiman Creek before reaching Russian River
Rodney Strong Vineyard released an initial statement about the spill on Facebook, saying wildlife appeared to be unaffected
After those ponds filled up, wine runoff poured into Reiman Creek, an industrial stream that runs through the vineyards. The continual rush of wine eventually overflowed into the Russian River.
Aerial footage from the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office Henry 1 helicopter showed the wine lining the riverbank for several miles downstream.
In just a matter of hours the red wine traveled nearly five miles downstream to Riverfront Regional Park.
Healdsburg Fire and the Sonoma County Fire District initially dispatched to the scene two hours after the leak, but their containment equipment was ineffective for a substance like wine.
Aerial footage from the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office Henry 1 helicopter showed the wine lining the riverbank for several miles downstream
State and local conservation agencies are monitoring the Reiman Creek and Russian River to asses the environmental damage
O’Gorman says that some of the wine was saved before it leaked out of the building, adding that the internal investigation has ‘almost completely’ ruled out human error.
‘We were able to control the leak and shut the tank and save some of that wine. A lot of it was captured in the building without it leaking outside,’ he said.
Sonoma and Napa counties wine spills
Since 1979, there have been two other notable wine spills in Sonoma and Napa counties.
That year, the Charle Krug Winery, the oldest in Napa Valley, were forced to clean up a wine waste spill into the Napa Valley River.
The spill killed at least 2,000 fish, including catfish, suckers, small mouth bass, sunfish and blue gill.
The fish perished because the wine waste absorbed the oxygen in the water.
Just over a one mile of Napa Valley River was affected.
In 2005, 6,400 gallons of pinot noir in a big rig tanker overturned on Highway 121.
Around 2,000 gallons escaped through a drainage ditch, stoking fears that the substance could reach Sonoma Creek and San Pablo Bay.
The contaminated water was vacuumed before it reached Sonoma Creek.
The winery contracted two vacuum trucks to clean up the spill on the property.
Rodney Strong Vineyard’s financial loss hasn’t been disclosed, but local officials are trying to determined the environmental cost of the leak.
Sonoma County Water Quality Control Board and California Department of Fish & Wildlife were on scene Thursday to investigate the extent of the damage.
Water agency supervisor Charles Reed said that recent rainfall likely made for higher than usual water levels, helping dilute wine that could be appealing to smaller organisms for food.
On Thursday, water was reportedly moving around nine times the total amount of the spill each second.
California’s Governor’s Office of Emergency Services said around 20 percent of the initial spill was contained on Wednesday.
After initially announcing as much as 80 percent of wine had been captured, Rodney Strong said it closer to 50 percent in a recent statement.
Brad Sherwood, a spokesman for the Sonoma County Water Agency, who gets drinking water from the Russian River, said the wine had not affected its system.
Typically, wine isn’t as harmful to the environment as raw sewage because sewage has an abundance of toxic pollutants.
However, wine can be more damaging than treated sewage. Treated sewage is processed and disinfected, while wine is very acidic and untreated.
McEnhill was encouraged on Thursday by the results of an initial study.
He said: ‘When we don’t see dead fish, that tells us we’ve dodged the worst potential impact. We probably lost a lot of fish food and really small organisms that can’t swim away from this, but…we’ve had many worse things happen to our river.’
Rodney Strong Vineyards will likely face repercussions for the spill, but no punishment or enforcement has been announced
The state fish and wildlife department will write a review of the accident and forward the report to the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office for review.
Rodney Strong Vineyard’s will likely face repercussions for the spill, bit McEnhill said the winery’s response was ‘fast and immediate.’
‘This was unfortunate, but hopefully we’ll learn something that will prevent it from happening in the future,’ he added.
The investigation is still in the early stages, but Eric Laughlin, spokesman for fish and wildlife agency’s office of spill and prevention response, said it’s a code violation to release anything harmful to fish into the water.
The county water quality board has already identified two permit violations, but have not determined an enforcement or punishment.
Water samples taken to determine fish kill will come in the next few days and a full report on the spill should be ready in two weeks.