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News: Changes to California's ballast water regulations

27 November 2019

Ballast water, while necessary for the safe and efficient operation of commercial ocean-going ships, can also create serious environmental complications if not handled correctly. Studies suggest that in the US alone, the introduction of invasive mollusks (transported in water loaded at one port, which is then discharged at another) into local ecosystems costs more that USD 6 billion per year.
 
In an attempt to respond to this problem, the state of California (which is perhaps one of America's most environmentally conscious states) has introduced the 'Marine Invasive Species Act' ('the Act'). This allows the State of California to issue strict penalties for violations of ballast water management within their waters. The Act has now been amended by Assembly Bill (AB) 912, which will take effect on 1 January 2020. 
 
A brief summary of these amendments follows.
 
Delay to performance standards implementation
 
California has attempted to introduce stricter interim ballast water discharge performance standards, which were to be implemented on 1 January 2020.  However, due to a lack of available ballast water treatment technologies the implementation of these interim and final standards have been delayed to 1 January 2030 and 1 January 2040 respectively. 
 
Extension of Pacific Coast Region (the 'PCR')
 
Under the Act, ships over 300GT whose last port of call was inside of the PCR and whose ballast water has been sourced from the PCR are required to conduct ballast water exchange at least 50 nautical miles from land before discharging in Californian waters. The new amendments extend the boundary of the PCR to include the ports of Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta. This new boundary will also include the Gulf of California.
 
Defining 'land'
 
As mentioned, the Act requires the exchange of ballast water to be conducted at least 50 nautical miles from land. The definition of land will now be extended to include any offshore rock outcrops or islands. Ship operators should carefully consider the surrounding geology when planning their ballast water operations.
 
Sampling for research purposes
 
The amendments will extend the authority of the California State Lands Commission. They will now be permitted to board ships and sample ballast water for research purposes.
 
Exemptions
 
Ships may be exempt from these management methods in certain situations; for example, if the master believes that practise of these methods might threaten the safety of the ship and/or her crew. The master will be required to document his reasons for non-compliance, and to submit this information to the Commission at the earliest possible time.​