EPA Ends Dumping in California Waters

Published Jan 12, 2011 2:44 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Wednesday, proposed banning all sewage discharges from vessels in California’s coastal waters. The proposed ban would make the California coast line the largest “No Discharge Zone” in the U.S.

In 2006 California made a request to EPA under the guidelines of the Clean Water Act requesting expanded “no discharge zones” off its coast. The Clean Water Act says that states may make such a request to the EPA if it is necessary to protect water quality. The EPA proposal will take affect after a 60 day period where the public can make comments on the plan.

The new rule would apply to the release of both treated and untreated sewage within California’s marine waters from cruise ships and commercial vessels larger than 300 tons, who have adequate sewage holding capacity (defined by the EPA as two days storage capacity).

The “no discharge zone” applies to all 1,624 miles of California’s coastline out to 3 miles off shore. The ban will also include major islands, tidal bays, rivers and estuaries.

The EPA estimates that 20.4 million gallons or 80% of the treated sewage released into California’s waters each year will be eliminated with this new ban. The remaining 20% is made up of smaller vessels not covered in the ban like recreational vessels who are currently required to pump out sewage at harbor pump out stations, however these stations are not always available. The other vessels are mostly comprised of smaller fishing boats who are required to treat their sewage before dumping it.

California was aware of the sewage problem years ago and passed the California Clean Coast Act of 2005, however the dumping continued. In 2009 California beaches were monitored and advisories were issued to almost half of the states beaches for high levels of pathogens in the water. This new EPA ban will allow for larger violation fines to help enforce the new rule.