California Moves to Ban Sewage Discharges from Ships

California Moves to Ban Sewage Discharges from Ships

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California’s Sewage “No Discharge Zone”

Santa Rosa IslandCalifornia’s 1,100-mile coastline includes some of the most unique and productive waters in the world. It is home to many endangered species and is enjoyed by swimmers, surfers, and water sports enthusiasts. The animals and activities not only hold inherent value for their beauty and fun, they also have economic value to the state — economic value which can be affected by the quality of the environment and coastline.  The negative economic impact of degraded public estuarine and marine natural resources on the California ocean economy can be substantial.

California’s marine resources are threatened by sewage and other harmful pollution discharged from cruise ships and large ocean-going vessels. It’s estimated that a typical large cruise ship, the largest of which can now carry between 3,000 and 7,000 passengers and crew, generates an average of 210,000 gallons (or 6 large swimming pools) of human sewage and 1 million gallons (33 more swimming pools) of graywater (water from sinks, baths, showers, laundry, and galleys) on a one week voyage. Nearly 1.5 million passengers departed on cruise ships in California’s waters in 2008 and these numbers and the size of ships continue to grow, presenting an ongoing threat and demanding regulations to protect the marine resources and economy of California.

SurferIn 2005, Friends of the Earth helped pass the Clean Coast Act in the California state legislature. The act seeks to stem the tide of ship pollution by prohibiting the discharge of numerous waste streams from large ships in California’s waters, including sewage, sewage sludge, graywater, hazardous waste, and oily bilge water.

California was able to implement all of these bans immediately — except for the sewage dumping ban, known as a “No Discharge Zone.” In 2006, California submitted a 96-page application to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to request authority to implement the sewage no discharge zone, basing its case on the environmental importance and sensitivity of California’s coastal waters.

After several years of inaction by the EPA, Friends of the Earth stepped up its pressure in support of California’s no discharge zone request. We sent our own letter to the EPA urging action and rallied 20 members of California’s congressional delegation to send a joint letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson urging that she allow California to protect its waters and the public from harmful sewage and pollution discharges from large ships. 

Thanks to the joint effort by the state of California, its congressional delegation and Friends of the Earth, the EPA has finally approved the sewage dumping ban. On August 25, 2010, Friends of the Earth’s Ocean’s team joined the regional EPA administrator at a press conference in San Francisco announcing the decision to establish what will be the largest coastal no discharge zone in the United States. After a 60-day public comment period, the EPA will move forward to finalize the rule and protect California’s waters and coastline from sewage pollution.

Read the news release announcing EPA approval of the sewage no discharge zone
Read the letter from Members of Congress from California to U.S. EPA
Read the letter from Friends of the Earth to U.S. EPA
Read the letter from the California EPA to U.S. EPA
Learn more about California’s application to U.S. EPA for a No Discharge Zone