California adopts federal ballast water discharge standards

Gard has reminded members that, until such time as technological advances enabled compliance with California’s stringent ballast water discharge performance standards, vessels discharging ballast water into Californian waters would have to use a ballast water treatment system that has been approved by the US Coast Guard.

This year the State of California, known for its enforcement of stringent environmental regulations, many of which affected visiting ships, introduced a new at-berth emission regulation that aimed to further reduce the public’s exposure to air pollution generated by vessels berthed at its busiest ports, and greatly enhanced the criminal penalties for oil spill related offences in its waters.

Under its Marine Invasive Species Program (MISP), California has established biofouling management and ballast water discharge standards that are more stringent than those enforced under the US federal regulations and IMO’s international maritime conventions. However, California has yet to implement its ballast water discharge performance standards – primarily because the standards are still technically unachievable.

The compliance dates for the more stringent interim and final California ballast water discharge performance standards have been delayed to 2030 and 2040 respectively, due to a lack of available ballast water treatment technologies to enable vessels to meet the California standards at this time.

It was also worth noting that, once fully implemented, the new Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA) might prevent State authorities from implementing State-specific management requirements or standards for vessel discharges, including ballast water, that were stricter than the federal standards. Gard advised members that, for now, when calling at ports in the US or sailing through US waters, it was important to bear in mind that State laws might be in force in addition to US federal law and that State laws can be more stringent than those set by the national government and can carry different penalties.

As a temporary measure until technological advances enable compliance with the State’s more stringent ballast water discharge performance standards, the California State Lands Commission (SLC) has aligned its discharge requirements for vessels arriving at California ports with those set by the US Coast Guard (USCG). The SLC has jurisdiction over vessels that are 300 grt and above that carry or are capable of carrying ballast water.

Vessels visiting California ports had to ensure that their ballast water treatment system was operated in accordance with the design limitations stipulated by the manufacturer, or set forth in the USCG approval documents, and had to maintain a number of records on board.

Additional information about California’s ballast water and biofouling management regulations, including an overview of vessel best management practices to prevent the uptake and release of invasive aquatic species, can be found on the MISP website.