The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) signed a new rule in February that will ban large ocean-going cruise and cargo ships from discharging treated or untreated sewage in the waters along California’s 1,624-mile coast, from Mexico to Oregon. The ban goes into effect in March and will create the largest coastal no-sewage zone in the country.
In an EPA news release, EPA Pacific Southwest regional administrator, Jared Blumenthal, said, “By approving California’s ‘No Discharge Zone,’ EPA will prohibit more than 20 million gallons of vessel sewage from entering the state’s coastal waters. Not only will this rule help protect important marine species, it also benefits the fishing industry, marine habitats and the millions of residents and tourists who visit California beaches each year.”
According to the EPA, several dozen cruise ships make many California port calls each year, and close to 2,000 cargo ships made more than 9,000 California port calls in 2010. The rule not only prohibit the discharge of more than 22 million of the 25 million gallons of treated sewage generated by large vessels in California’s marine waters, but it could also reduce the contribution of pollutants that still exist in treated ship sewage.
In 2005, State Senator Joe Simitian authored Senate Bill 771, California’s Clean Coast Act prohibiting commercial ships from dumping hazardous waste, sewage sludge, bilge water, and “gray water” from sinks and showers into state waters. But until this new EPA ruling, California didn’t have the authority to enforce the law. And unlike the Clean Water Act whose no-discharge law applied to very small areas, the new ban applies to all coastal waters out to three miles from the coast, including bays and estuaries subject to tidal influence.
California’s coastal waters include four national marine sanctuaries, a national monument, portions of six national parks and recreation areas, and more than 200 protected areas and marine reserves. While the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has already implemented vessel discharge bans in the four state marine sanctuaries it oversees, recreation areas are extremely important to California. According to the EPA, 77 percent of the state’s population lives on or near the coast, and more than 150 million visitors make a trip to California beaches annually.
The new rule applies to all passenger ships that weigh more than 300 tons and to other outgoing ships larger than 300 tons with sewage holding tank capacity. It was well received by the shipping industry including the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association.