Wisconsin's ballast water regulations are too strict, according to a study by the state's environmental department.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources proposed late Tuesday that the state bring its Vessel General Permit in line with international ballast water discharge rules.
Requirements of the permit become effective in 2012 for new ocean-going vessels and in 2014 for existing ocean-going vessels. The new standard would be 100 times more stringent than that established by the International Maritime Organization, an agency of the United Nations.
When not fully loaded, commercial cargo ships must take on water, or ballast, to maintain their stability. Once pumped on board, ballast water is stored in narrow cavities built into the hull of a ship. Ballast water pumped onboard in one port may inadvertently contain aquatic organisms that are then released when ballast is discharged in another port.
In February 2010, Wisconsin began regulating the ballast water discharges of ocean-going commercial vessels in an effort to minimize the transfer of invasive aquatic species. These regulations require vessel operators to install environmental technology to clean or treat ballast water to achieve a specific water quality standard. New York put similar rules in place with a 2012 deadline for existing vessels as well as new ones.
The shipping industry objected that the water quality standards of the two states were unachievable with current technology. This prompted Wisconsin to order a year-long feasibility study.
The WDNR report on Dec. 21 issued the following conclusions:
-- Testing protocols are not available to verify compliance with Wisconsin's standard.
-- Treatment technologies to meet Wisconsin's standard are not commercially available at this time.
-- At this time it is not feasible to install the treatment technologies onboard vessels.
-- Open-ocean salt water flushing has been proven to be effective in helping reduce the threat of aquatic non-indigenous species to U.S. waters. WDNR will retain this practice for the long term in an effort to better protect their waters.
"The proposed change will save Wisconsin jobs by harmonizing Wisconsin's regulations with those of neighboring states," said Jason Serck, president of the Wisconsin Commercial Port Association.
"The Wisconsin DNR's recommendation to adopt the IMO ballast water treatment standards is most encouraging," said Marc Gagnon, director of government affairs and regulatory compliance with Montreal-based bulk shipping company Fednav Limited.
"In Wisconsin, science and reason have prevailed in recognizing that the IMO ballast water treatment standards are effective, biologically defensible and verifiable. Supplementing those standards, as Wisconsin's regulation stipulates, by requiring that ocean going vessels continue to exchange their ballast at sea or flush their NOBOB tanks with salt water, will ensure that the Great Lakes retain their current standing as the region with the most stringent ballast water requirements anywhere," Gagnon said.
-- Contact Thomas L. Gallagher at email@example.com.