California Ports Support Ballast Water Management Legislation

In order to maintain maneuverability and stability, ocean-going vessels frequently exchange millions of gallons of ballast water while en route to, and while berthed at, their destinations.  Ballast water is stored in the vessels and pumped between the ship’s tanks and the ocean, depending on circumstances, and is a critical component of safety for most ocean-going vessels.

Ballast water exchange is also a potentially significant source of introduction of nonindigenous species to California waters, and a significant concern to the maritime community.  As ships exchange ballast water, they often take water on in one coastal region and discharge ballast water in another, potentially transferring a large variety of biological organisms, including animals and plants, from one coastal region to another. According to the State Lands Commission (SLC), nonindigenous species cause significant risk to human health, our economies and the environment, and commercial shipping is one the most significant methods of introduction of aquatic nonindigenous species in North America.

In order to minimize the introduction of invasive species, California requires vessel operators to manage and report to the SLC on ballast water exchange activities.  California law also requires the exchange of ballast water in the open ocean, far from coastal regions.  Open ocean water contains far fewer organisms by volume than water in lower-lying coastal regions, and generally speaking, organism found in the open ocean are not adapted for survival in coastal areas.  These requirements help to minimize the likely introduction of nonindigenous species.

In an effort to further minimize the introduction of nonindigenous species through ballast water, the California legislature passed the Coastal Ecosystems Protection Act of 2006, which called for the SLC to adopt regulations on performance standards for ballast water discharge in the waters of the state. The final standards adopted – zero detectable organisms in discharge of ballast water – are the strictest in the world and currently unachievable.

There are several methods identified to help achieve compliance with California’s aspirational standards, including retention ballast water where possible, discharging in approved facilities, or the use of onboard treatment systems.  In spite of very robust and significant scientific and technological development efforts over the last decade, however, the SLC has concluded that no ballast water treatment systems are currently available to meet California’s standards.

AB 1312, by Assembly Member Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach), would extend the timeframe for development of treatment systems and delay enforcement of California’s standards from 2016 to 2020.  This important bill, sponsored by the State Lands Commission and supported by many in the maritime and trade communities, is critical to assuring that international trade can legally continue through California while better methods of ballast water management and treatment are developed.

The California Association of Port Authorities supports the State Lands Commission and Assembly Member O’Donnell in their efforts to assure that additional time is provided to enable developers of new technologies to research, advance, and implement technologies to achieve compliance.

Source: State Lands Commission

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