FISH FACTOR: Full speed ahead for bill repealing cruise ship discharge rules
Dilution is the solution for pollution sums up the Parnell Administration policy when it comes to cruise ship discharges in Alaska waters.
A bill being moved quickly by state lawmakers will repeal a 2006 citizens’ initiative that requires cruise ships to meet Alaska water quality standards at the point of discharge, and instead create mixing zones for dumping sewage, hazardous chemicals and other wastes. Alaskans won’t know where those zones are, as House Republicans rejected amendments to require disclosure of the locations.
The measure, introduced by Gov. Sean Parnell, was passed already by the House and the Senate Finance committee, the last stop before the bill moves to a vote by the full legislature.
At a press conference, Parnell was asked what he would say to the many Alaskans who pushed for tighter controls on cruise ship discharges, and to the seafood industry which has worked for two decades to build a brand based in part on Alaska’s pure, pristine waters.
“I would say that the standards to which cruise ships are currently being held, and will continue to be held with their advanced wastewater treatment systems, are among or surpass the most stringent in the world,” Parnell said. “I would say that the Department of Environmental Conservation’s ability to regulate in accordance with federal and state law, and the stipulations they put on the mixing zones require that marine species not be harmed. I would just say that voters were likely unaware that there is no technology available, and the science advisory panel agrees, that would meet the point of discharge standards that have been set.”
“In the balance of protecting the environment and ensuring that our small businesses can still get the benefits of a million cruise ship passengers spending money in our economy, we are making sure that cruise ships will continue to be held to the highest standards, that the environment will continue to be protected, and that our businesses will continue to grow,” Parnell added.
Lynn Kent, DEC deputy commissioner, said: “The conclusion of two scientific advisory panels is that the advanced wastewater treatment systems that are on board cruise ships now are really the best that there is. They do a very good job. They treat all of the wastewater that is discharged to a standard that meets all of Alaska’s water quality standards, with the exception of four criteria (for ammonia, copper, nickel and zinc). And even with the legislation that is pending right now, DEC has the authority to continue to look at new technologies that may become available in the future, and to push cruise ships to continue to do better with their wastewater discharges.”
A reporter asked Kent how DEC is going to make sure that marine species are not harmed: “You said repeatedly in testimony that the dilution factor is going to make the water quality meet standards. But dilution doesn’t make those four heavy metals go away. There is no way that you can test a moving mixing zone. How are you going to make sure that those species are protected even though while being diluted there is going to be continuous flow of heavy metals into the environment?”
Kent’s response: “The water quality standards are designed to protect species and they are based on a concentration of a particular contaminant in the water body. So when a cruise ship is moving at knots or greater, we have calculated through studies that the dilution factor is 50,000 to one. That means that within seconds of discharge from a moving cruise ship, the water quality standards that are protective of aquatic life are met. When we say we can’t measure that, it’s because we couldn’t get close enough to a cruise ship fast enough to actually take a sample in the water body. We do require the cruise ships that discharge in Alaska (to) take samples twice a month for some parameters, and daily for others. There is a tremendous amount of monitoring that goes on.
“For the very few cruise ships that are authorized to discharge in port, the mixing zone for those ships under current law is very small, within meters of the vessel. We have the ability to either require the company to monitor at the edge of those mixing zones, or to do it ourselves. We haven’t seen the need to do that because of the tremendous amount of dilution even when they are at port.”
Director of the Alaska Cruise Association, John Binkley of Fairbanks, said cruise ships would have a hard time complying with discharge standards under the current legal framework. The floating cities “might have to travel outside of state waters to discharge and could end up spending more money on fuel, or perhaps not coming to Alaska as a result.”
Rep. Dan Saddler of Eagle River is co-chair of the House Resources Committee. When asked how he would respond to the concerns of Alaskans and the seafood industry, he replied: “I would say that their aspirations to protect the health of the resource have been heard, and they made a very good faith effort to see if they were achievable in the real world, practically, effectively and economically. They established very strict standards for cruise ships that are not required of other shore-based dischargers, and of course, fishing boats and ferries don’t have to follow those standards either. So I think the science panel found out that the ships were able to use the advanced waste water treatment systems to meet all Alaska water quality criteria, except four, and those were met shortly after discharge in a mixing zone.”
Saddler added: “What I would say to people in the seafood industry — frankly, I am concerned about the way the issue has been characterized and maybe exaggerated between dirty and clean. Advanced wastewater treatment systems provide very good treatment for discharges by cruise ships, more so than fishing boats and ferries and shore based. So the more it’s hyped up as being dirty water and terrible discharges, I think to some degree the industry may be harming itself with the focus on that.”
About 30 cruise ships carrying a total of nearly one million people visit Alaska over a five-month period. This result is over one billion gallons of cruise discharges being dumped into unknown areas of Alaska state waters every year.
On Jan. 29, as the relaxed laws were being fast tracked by legislators, Princess Cruises was fined $20,000 when one of its vessels, the 2,590 passenger Golden Princess, discharged 66,000 gallons of chlorinated pool water into Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.
Real salmon rally
A “say no to GMO salmon” rally in Sitka aimed to raise awareness of the potential risks of genetically modified salmon, which is set to be the first man made animal ever approved for human consumption by the Food and Drug Administration.
“We really are THE salmon state, so we should be leading the charge on this one,” said event co-organizer Paul Rioux, adding that he’s hopeful other communities will follow suit.
He and many others worry that not enough is known about the risks posed by genetically tweaked salmon to humans, other fish and the environment. Ray Friedlander of the Sitka Conservation Society also worries about market impacts.
“In Southeast Alaska, wild salmon are the backbone of our economy and produce over 4,000 jobs. With mass production of GM salmon, how can we say the price won’t go down and affect the market for salmon in Alaska,” Friedlander said. “I think it will hurt Alaska’s identity and the Tongass’ identity as being a wild salmon producing forest.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Mark Begich introduced legislation on Feb. 8 to ban “Frankenfish” or to require labeling if the fish is approved. Begich is chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and the Coast Guard.