Save The River has long been a proponent of stringent ballast water regulations for all ships entering or transiting the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes as the only means of stopping the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species. Since 1959, when the St. Lawrence Seaway opened the River and Lakes to direct ocean-going shipping, 65% of species discovered have been attributed to ballast water release. River communities know the serious impact aquatic invasive species have on the health of the St. Lawrence River and our local economy. The cost of zebra and quagga mussel control alone is estimated at $500 million per year over the next five years and the impact on indigenous species such as bass from invaders like the round goby cannot yet be calculated.
While we have applauded incremental steps to clean up ballast water in the past such as the Seaway’s requiring salt water flushes of ocean-going vessels, we have steadfastly maintained that the goal must be zero discharges of non-native species in ballast water. This past week the EPA had an opportunity to make significant progress toward that goal. Instead it finalized regulations that limit, but do not eliminate the number of organisms that can be dumped into our River.
It is disappointing that almost 40 years after the enactment of the Clean Water Act it took a lawsuit to force the EPA to act to protect the nation’s waterways at all and that when it did act, it did so in such weak manner. Significantly the EPA regulations set out:
• a weak standard – the EPA accepted the industry endorsed ‘IMO’ standard, which from our perspective (and that of the state of California, with a standard 100x more protective) represents the bare minimum for regulation and is not protective of the River, with no requirements on ships that only transit the Lakes;
• a weak timeline – the EPA expects all ships to be compliant by 2018, but with no apparent recourse if ships do not meet that deadline; and
• no mechanism to strengthen standards or improve technology – our concerns come straight from an industry spokesman, who stated, “EPA’s final rules now end the debate over ballast water regulation.”
No one should be lulled into a sense that our River and the economy that depends on it are safe with these standards. The next destructive invasive species may be only a ballast discharge away.