Legal, Water Quality
February 10 2012

California Coast Protected by Largest No-Discharge Zone in the Nation!

by Angela Howe

Beginning in March 2012, California's coastal waters will be protected from dumping of vessel sewage, whether treated or not, thanks to a collaboration by the State of California and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA").

The EPA decided to approve a state proposal to establish a federal regulation banning all sewage discharges from large cruise ships and most other large ocean-going ships to state marine waters along California’s 1,100 mile-long coastal zone from Mexico to Oregon.  This No Discharge Zone ("NDZ") protection also expands to surrounding major islands.  Large passenger vessels and large oceangoing vessels over 300 gross tons will be regulated while in California marine waters.

Recognizing the potential benefit to human health and water quality, Surfrider Foundation, along with Friends of the Earth and several other ocean conservation organizations, have pushed for these rules for years, including with Surfrider's submission of a detailed comment letter in November of 2010.  We will continue to push the EPA for expansion for the NDZ,  enhanced enforcement provisions, and increased protection for the nation's coastal water quality.

For the current victory, EPA's Head of Region 9 boasted: "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," said Jared Blumenfeld. "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."

The prohibition is unprecedented in geographical scope, spanning over 1600 miles including the island coasts that are protected.  Most Clean Water Act regulations on discharge apply only in very small areas.  The new ban applies to all coastal waters out to 3 miles from the coastline and all bays and estuaries subject to tidal influence.  Prior to this regulation, California enjoyed no discharge zones for ten bays and marinas, which will remain in effect for all vessels.

The U.S. Coast Guard will be in charge of the enforcement of the No Discharge Zone pursuant to section 312(k) of the Clean Water Act, using existing vessel examinations and inspection authorities.  The compliance examinations will include review of inspection records, visual inspections, evaluation of holding tank limits and/or review of sewage dumping records.

Photo: ©Dreamstime