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Meet The Newest Soldiers In California’s Drought Battles

Worms are helping high-end wineries process all their wastewater

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My fellow Americans, it’s time we stop worrying and learn to love the bug. Not only are they imperative to our life here on this planet, but these squirmy little heroes are always finding new ways to help us out of our jams. The most recent case-in-point is California, where worms are being used to tackle a massive wine industry issue: wastewater disposal.

It’s common knowledge among vintners that creating a single glass of wine in California can use up to 14 gallons of water—and then you have to clean it. Typically, this means the wastewater is filtered multiple times, allowing bacteria to slowly break down in a painstaking and time consuming process that has long been itching for a better solution.

Mendocino County’s Fetzer Vineyard is currently partnering with Chilean company BioFiltro to install the first-ever worm-based wastewater disposal program in America. A massive “treatment box” filled with 12,000 worms per cubic yard will be installed on the property, and wastewater will then be sprayed into the box for the worms to clean. The process will take roughly four hours, and can be done with almost zero outside influence, including electricity.

“We are committed to water conservation and employ a number of practices as part of our efforts to become ‘water positive,’” says Josh Prigge, Director of Regenerative Development at Fetzer. The company’s aim is to possess a “net positive” ecological footprint by 2030.

This certainly isn’t the first time bugs have been useful in tidying up man-made messes. “Bioremediation” (which focuses more on tiny microbial bugs than anything you could knowingly squash with your shoe) is gaining serious traction as a solution for cleaning everything from mercury waste to oil spills. And a new study found that along the Broadway corridor in New York, insects and spiders eat up to 2,100 pounds of food waste each year, making the streets cleaner and less putrid. The reach of BioFiltro’s own system has found its way onto multiple continents, helping both well-trafficked national parks and off-the-grid rural towns break down waste naturally.

“The biggest challenge we have faced is people can't believe that natural processes—let alone worms—are capable of doing the same, if not better, job than machines and chemicals,” said Mai Ann Healy of BioFiltro. “Wastewater has traditionally incorporated the use of aerators, chemicals, and machinery to treat water. ‘It can't be that simple,’ is the most common feedback, despite the fact that Mother Nature has been doing this for billions of years.”

So let’s all raise a toast -- hey bugs, this Pinot’s for you!

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