The Environmental Protection Agency approved a rule today banning all passenger and cargo ships over 300 tons from releasing sewage into ocean waters within three miles of California's 1,624-mile coast and the Channel Islands.
U.S. EPA Regional Administrator Jared Blumenfeld said the new rules will help reduce concentrations of pathogens, bacteria and other pollutants that can make people sick and harm coastal ecosystems.
EPA officials said the rules will prevent about 90 percent of the sewage that used to be allowed in near-coastal waters.
"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," Blumenfeld said. "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."
A representative of the Cruise Lines International Association was not immediately available for comment.
The new federal rule is the first in the nation to apply to an entire state coastline and will be enforced primarily by the U.S. Coast Guard. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had previously applied similar vessel sewage discharge bans in the four California marine sanctuaries that it oversees.
The ban gives teeth to the 2005 California Clean Coast Act, sponsored by Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, who called it "a great day for the California coast, which is far too precious a resource to be used as a dumping ground."
Blumenfeld said he expects cruise ships to discharge sewage beyond the three-mile distance from the coast, because most California ports do not have pumping stations for cruise ships to unload sewage for disposal or treatment on land.
He said retrofits to expand sewage capacity on the five dozen cruise ships that move along the California coast would cost a total of about $4 million for all of the vessels.
The ban will officially go into effect 30 days after it is entered into the Federal Register, which is likely to take place in 3-5 days.
—City News Service