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San Diego Coastkeeper: EPA Ship Sewage Discharge Rule Good Start

EPA Rule Bans Large Vessels From Dumping Sewage Near Calif. Coastline

Above: Cruise ships in the Port of San Diego.

Aired 2/10/12 on KPBS News.

The Environmental Protection Agency approved a rule today banning all large passenger and cargo ships from releasing sewage into ocean waters within three miles of California's 1,624-mile coast and the Channel Islands.

The Environmental Protection Agency approved a rule today banning all large passenger and cargo ships from releasing sewage into ocean waters within three miles of California's 1,624-mile coast and the Channel Islands.

The EPA says the new rules will help reduce concentrations of pathogens, bacteria and other pollutants, which can make people sick and harm coastal ecosystems.

The new rules apply to vessels over 300 tons.

"This is going in the right direction. Right now it only applies to large vessels, we're hoping that someday it can apply to smaller vessels as well," said Jill Witkowski of San Diego Coastkeeper.

EPA officials said approving California's "No Discharge Zone" will prevent more than 20 million gallons of ship sewage from entering the state's coastal waters.

"Right now we've got protected areas like Mission Bay, San Diego Bay and Oceanside Harbor where no vessels are allowed to discharge any treated or untreated sewage," Witkowski said. "We're hoping that someday that the no discharge can extend to all vessels all the way up the coast. In the meantime, this is a great step toward that goal."

The new federal rule is the first in the nation to apply to an entire state coastline and will be enforced primarily by the U.S. Coast Guard.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had previously applied similar vessel sewage discharge bans in the four California marine sanctuaries that it oversees.

The EPA said it expects cruise ships to discharge sewage beyond the 3-mile distance from the coast, because most California ports do not have pumping stations for cruise ships to unload sewage for disposal or treatment on land.

A Port of San Diego spokeswoman said the Port does not have pumping stations, but contracts with a vendor who takes away ship sewage in a tanker truck.

The discharge ban goes into effect 30 days after it is entered into the Federal Register, which is expected to happen in the next week.

The ban gives teeth to the 2005 California Clean Coast Act, sponsored by Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, who called it "a great day for the California coast, which is far too precious a resource to be used as a dumping ground."

City News Service contributed to this report.

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