Legislation approved Feb. 19 by the Alaska Senate will weaken cruise ship wastewater discharge standards. The measure brought to legislators by Gov. Sean Parnell, and opposed by many commercial fishing interests, will become effective as soon as Parnell signs it into law.
House Bill 80 deletes a statutory requirement for cruise ships to meet Alaska water quality standards at the point of discharge. Current state law requires that commercial passenger ships in state waters not discharge untreated sewage, treated sewage, graywater or other wastewaters in a manner that violates effluent limits or standards under state or federal law, including Alaska wastewater quality standards governing pollution at the point of discharge, except with specific documentation of those discharges.
Legislators in the Republican controlled Senate argued that the mixing zones that cruise ships would be allowed under the bill are the same mixing zones now allowed for municipal wastewater treatment plants, fish processors and others.
Alaska Cruise Association President John Binkley said that to date the industry has spent more than $200 million to install the latest advanced wastewater treatment systems on their ships and that the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has kept up with the latest technology advances. Binkley said he’s confident enough about the wastewater that he’s willing to drink it.
But Michelle Ridgway, a marine ecologist from Southeast Alaska who served on the cruise ship wastewater science panel, urged Alaskans to identify their most vulnerable marine habitats and ask the Department of Environmental Conservation to delineate them in regulation as zero discharge zones.
“With the state pressing hard for allowing ships to discharge along their routes in multiple ship moving mixing zones in state waters, we have no choice but to launch a citizen’s marine spatial planning effort to protect our most important sites from wastewater discharge – whether important for biological or cultural heritage reasons,” Ridgway said.
“If we cannot control the contaminant level of the billion or so gallons cruise ships discharge annually by meeting water quality criteria at the pipe, we are left with few options, but to insist the state develop this network of marine protected areas so there are some ocean refuges from this significant pollution source,” she said.