Ballast Water Management

In order to maintain navigability, stability and integrity, ocean-going vessels may take on, discharge, or redistribute ballast water during the course of normal operations.  During cargo loading and unloading, for example – or as a vessel encounters rough seas, or transits through shallow waterways or under bridges – ballast water is frequently used to maintain balance and weight distribution aboard ships. Typically, a vessel takes on ballast water after cargo is unloaded in one port and discharges ballast water when cargo is loaded in another port. This transfer of ballast water can result in the movement of species around the world and gives rise to the potential introduction of invasive species. Once established, these species can cause significant environmental, economic, and human health impacts.

 California law required the State Lands Commission (SLC) to adopt regulations governing ballast water management practices for ships of 300 gross tons or more arriving at a California port or place from outside of the Pacific Coast Region by January 1, 2005. Currently, California requires ships to employ at least one of the following ballast water management practices: (1) exchange ballast water more than 200 miles from land and in waters at least 2,000 meters deep before entering the state’s coastal waters; (2) retain its ballast water; (3) discharge water at the same location where the ballast water originated; (4) use an alternative, environmentally sound method; (5) discharge the ballast water to a reception facility approved by the commission; or (6) under extraordinary circumstances, exchange ballast water within an area agreed upon by the commission and the Coast Guard. In addition, California regulations require ships carrying ballast water from within the Pacific Coast Region to conduct any ballast water exchange in waters that are more than 50 miles from land and at least 200 meters deep.

California enacted the Marine Invasive Species Act in order to limit the introduction of non-indigenous species into the state’s waters. Among the related requirements, the SLC must adopt additional regulations to restrict or prohibit discharge of non-indigenous species using “the best available technology economically achievable.” The act also calls for vigorous treatment and final performance standards of zero detectable living organisms in ballast water by 2020.

According to an assessment made by the State Lands Commission, however, there is currently no technology available to meet California’s demanding ballast water standards. Unless the standards are amended, or their implementation date is postponed in order for technological advancement, vessels may be unable to comply with California’s requirements.

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