2012-02-10 "EPA bans ships from dumping waste off state coast" by Peter Fimrite from "San Francisco Chronicle"
federal rule banning ships from flushing their sewage into the sea
within 3 miles of the California coast was approved Thursday by the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency.
The prohibition, which will go
into effect next month, means cruise and cargo ships will no longer be
able to discharge treated or untreated effluent or gray water anywhere
along the coast, a practice that regulators blame for spreading bacteria
and disease in marine mammals, fish and people.
The new rule
will create the largest coastal no-sewage zone in the nation, covering
the entire 1,624 mile coast from Mexico to Oregon 3 miles out into the
ocean. It is expected to prevent the dumping of 22.5 million gallons
annually of ship waste, a good portion of which has historically oozed
into San Francisco Bay.
"This is a problem that has been going on
from the time boats first started coming" to California, said Jared
Blumenfeld, the EPA's regional administrator, after signing the rule.
"What we are really doing is creating a coastal zone that recognizes the
importance of our beaches, surfing, swimming and the reason people come
to our iconic coastline."
Millions of visitors -
than 150,000 cruise ship passengers visit San Francisco each year in
about 50 mostly luxury vessels, often with their toilet tanks full to
the brim. Another 2,000 container ships steam through the Golden Gate.
Statewide, nearly 2 million ship passengers annually visit California's shores.
rule would make it illegal for ships or other oceangoing vessels larger
than 300 tons to disperse treated or untreated sewage within 3 miles of
the coast and inland waterways, including San Francisco Bay, the
Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, San Pedro Bay, San Diego Bay, Santa
Cruz Harbor and Humboldt Bay.
The U.S. Coast Guard will be
responsible for enforcement, but state regulators will also have
authority to enforce the rules. The EPA can impose stiff fines and
penalties on offenders.
The fact that ships are still allowed to
dump sewage along the California coast may come as a surprise to some
folks, particularly after repeated beach closures and polluted-water
warnings over the years.
The law has, in fact, been in the works
for a long time. Ten no-discharge zones were established in small
pristine areas, including San Diego Bay and Richardson Bay, in Marin
County, between 1976 and 1987.
Four national marine sanctuaries,
including the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, a national monument,
portions of six national parks and recreation areas, and more than 200
other marine reserves and protected areas have banned sewage dumping in
California enacted measures barring large,
oceangoing ships from discharging bilge water or "gray water" from sinks
and dishwashers within 3 miles of the coastline beginning in 2003.
Then, in 2005, a bill authored by State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto,
became law, prohibiting the dumping of sewage sludge and hazardous
wastes in state waters.
EPA jurisdiction -
problem was that the state didn't have the authority to enforce the law
without approval from the EPA, which enforces the federal Clean Water
Act. That meant the no-sludge zones were virtually unenforceable. The
new EPA rule enforces the state law.
Cruise and merchant vessel
owners insist they have complied with the 3-mile "no-discharge zone" for
the better part of a decade, and some claim they expel wastewater only
when they are 12 miles out. Still, the regulatory ambiguity made it
possible for ship captains to expel the waste at their whim.
final rule received widespread support from the shipping industry after
it was simplified. The EPA estimates up to 40 percent of large passenger
vessels would need to spend $200,000 each to retrofit their holding
Regulators said they hope other states follow
California's lead and implement ship-sewage bans. Regulations are
already in the works in Hawaii, Puget Sound and in the Great Lakes, said
Marcie Keever, the oceans and vessels project director for Friends of
"What California has done is unprecedented and we
really hope this will push other places to consider it," Keever said. It
means "cruise lines and the shipping industry can no longer use
California's valuable coastal and bay waters as their toilet."