Federal Regulation of Ballast Water

GOAL: Support The Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA), S. 168. VIDA establishes a uniform, Federal standard for treatment of ballast water and recognizes that vessels such as lakers that confine their operations to a “geographically limited area” need not treat their ballast, as they do not move from ecosystem to ecosystem.

BACKGROUND: In 2006 the St. Lawrence Seaway began requiring oceangoing vessels to exchange their ballast water before entering the system. In the decade that has followed, not one new non-native species has been identified in the Lakes.

While the problem seems largely solved, the U.S. Coast Guard will soon start requiring oceangoing vessels employ a ballast water treatment system. The U.S. EPA’s regulations go a step farther and require lakers that trade beyond Anticosti Island and newly constructed lakers to treat their ballast¹. Even though the need is questionable, the bottom line is the U.S. Coast Guard has approved just a few ballast water treatment systems and none have been tested or shown to work on lakers.  In fact, no system is even in development that can meet lakers’ operational requirements. The Coast Guard acknowledges the absence of suitable systems and is being flexible about its requirements, but the EPA’s position is unclear as its next Vessel General Permit is being drafted as of this writing.

Further confusing the situation is Transport Canada’s intention to require all lakers, even those just transiting Canada’s waters, to install treatment systems.

Reason must prevail or the laker trades will cease to exist. Any system capable of meeting lakers’ requirements is far off in the future, and since most lakers (and all U.S.-flag lakers) never leave the system, their ballast contains only what is already present. Federal regulation of ballast water should remain focused on vessels that enter from the oceans, and recognize that exchange has proved highly effective. Oceangoing vessels use of ballast water management systems doubles that protection.  Since lakers never leave the system and pose no threat of new introductions, they should continue to employ the Best Management Practices currently in effect.

ACTION: Support passage of S. 168, The Vessel Incidental Discharge Act, which has been added to the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2017 (S. 1129).

¹ By law, U.S.-flag lakers cannot sail beyond Anticosti Island.