A final ruling by the U.S. Coast Guard has introduced new standards and requires ships to use technology to minimize the threat of invasive species in discharged ballast waters.
Zebra mussels are among the invasive species that are endemic to foreign ecosystems, especially North America. They originated in Russia, but are common in North America now because of transportation in ballast waters. Once they are released on foreign territory, zebra mussels rapidly reproduce and attach to harbors, waterways, ships and boats, and water treatment and power plants in colonies, often clogging up pipes.
The new regulation requires that discharge from ballast tanks have no more than 10 living organisms per milliliter for organisms between 10 and 50 micrometers in size. Ten organisms greater than or equal to 50 micrometers in size are allowed per cubic meter (roughly 264 gallons).
Vessels will be required to install water treatment systems, such as UV radiation, electrolysis or centrifugation following their first dry dock after 2014.
These regulations are in line with discharge limits proposed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in 2004, but even still, some conservationists argue the regulations are not strict enough to stop the influx of non-native species into waterways. A coast guard representative said the ballast water standards can be increased over time; the first year to bear stricter regulations may be as soon as 2016.
Currently, around $200 million is spent annually on managing and eradicating invasive species, according to Senior Policy Manager at the National Wildlife Federation Marc Smith, speaking to Mlive.
Existing ballast water exchange and flushing practices will continue to be enforced by Transport Canada, the U. S. Coast Guard and Saint Lawrence Seaway. Commercial vessels must still flush empty tanks with salt water and exchange ballast water.
Original press release issued by U.S. Coast Guard on March 16th, 2012
The U.S. Coast Guard announced Friday March 16th the final rule for standards for living organisms in ships’ ballast water discharged into waters of the United States is scheduled for publication March 23 in the Federal Register.
A public inspection copy of the final rule is available online. Go to http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/public-inspection and select the option “View the Special Filing Document List.”
The Coast Guard is amending its regulations on ballast water management by establishing a standard for the allowable concentration of living organisms in ballast water discharged from ships in waters of the United States. The Coast Guard is also amending its regulations for engineering equipment by establishing an approval process for ballast water management systems.
“These new regulations will aid in controlling the introduction and spread of nonindigenous species from ships’ ballast water,” said Jeffrey Lantz, director of the Coast Guard’s Office of Commercial Regulations and Standards. “This final rule establishes a ballast water discharge standard that is protective of the marine environment and is also consistent with the discharge standard adopted by the International Maritime Organization in 2004.”
The numerical limits set by the discharge standard in this final rule are supported by reports from the National Academy of Sciences and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board in 2011 as the most stringent that vessels can practicably implement and that the Coast Guard can enforce at this time.
The final rule is effective 90 days after publication in the Federal Register, which is available through the new Federal Digital System at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/.
Photo: (feature) Randolph Croft (RC_Fotos, flickr), (removal) Shannon Bauer/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers