Update on Great Lakes Ballast Water Management

>The U.S. Coast Guard is one of four agencies with responsibility for protecting the Great Lakes system from aquatic invasive species (AIS) that may be carried in ballast water of ships coming from overseas. The other three are Transport Canada – Marine Safety, the Saint Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation, and the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation.

The following highlights our collective efforts to protect the Great Lakes:

Non-native, invasive species can wreak havoc on an ecosystem like the Great Lakes. So, preventing the introduction of AIS into the Great Lakes system through stricter ballast water standards and a comprehensive enforcement policy is a high priority for the U. S. Coast Guard. To that end, we’ve worked closely with the Canadian government and the two St Lawrence Seaway management agencies to establish bi-national ballast water management requirements for the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway system that are among the most stringent in the world.

Mandatory regulations include seawater flushing of both full and empty tanks in order to kill any freshwater organisms that might be present (found to be >99% effective at eliminating freshwater zooplankton), detailed ballast water documentation requirements, increased ballast tank inspections, and provisions for civil penalties in the event of violation. In total these provide a comprehensive enforcement regime to help protect the Great Lakes system from new invasive species being introduced from ocean-going ships.

Representatives from each of the agencies noted above work together as members of a “Ballast Water Working Group” (BWWG). The BWWG has a three-pronged approach to protecting the Great Lakes:

1. Review of mandatory ballast water reporting forms,
2. Completion of a ballast water management exam,
3. Sampling of ballast water from a vessel’s tanks.

If a ship intent on entering the St Lawrence Seaway and Great Lakes system cannot exchange ballast at sea or flush their empty tanks, it has three choices:

1. Retain its ballast water on board,
2. Treat the ballast water in an environmentally sound, approved manner, or
3. Return to sea to conduct a full ballast water exchange.

If a ship is required to retain ballast water on board, a member of the BWWG will issue the vessel a “retention” letter. This letter remains in force during the vessel’s entire voyage through the Great Lakes system. When the vessel exits the Great Lakes system, an inspector visits the vessel to confirm that no unauthorized ballast was discharged.

These requirements have significantly reduced the risk of a ballast water introduction of AIS into the Great Lakes. During the 2008 shipping season, 99% of ocean vessels entering the St Lawrence Seaway received a ballast water examination with high levels of industry compliance with ballast water exchange observed.

Ballast water exchange is an extremely effective short-term measure, but the Coast Guard is engaged in a more comprehensive rulemaking to set a national standard for ballast water discharges in U.S. waters. I am optimistic that it will be published soon.

In the interim, all eight Great Lakes states have passed state level ballast water regulations or have included ballast water conditions in their Environmental Protection Agency Vessel General Permit certification. However, I believe a single federal, bi-national standard is the best approach to ensure consistency and uniformity throughout the Great Lakes system.

For more information on the work of the BWWG, or for additional information on the Coast Guard’s actions with respect to ballast water and invasive species please refer to the 2008 Summary of Great Lakes Ballast Water Management, or contact CDR Tim Cummins of the Ninth District staff at (216) 902-6049. You can also access the web page for the Coast Guard Headquarters Environmental Standards Division.

Tags: , , , , ,