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Cruise ships to be barred from dumping sewage near California coast

August 25, 2010 |  4:36 pm

New federal regulations will bar cruise vessels and large commercial ships from discharging sewage within three miles of California's coastline, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday.

Officials say the new rules, which take effect next year, will amount to the nation's largest ban on sewage discharge and will keep about 20 million gallons of sewage out of coastal waters annually.

A 2005 state law bans ships from dumping hazardous substances and runoff from showers or sinks, but regulating sewage falls under federal jurisdiction. The federal ban, which applies to ships that weigh more than 300 tons, will give the U.S. Coast Guard the authority to cite vessels for violations.

"We now have the benefit of a rigorous state law and federal enforcement," said State Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), who wrote the California law and asked the EPA to establish the sewage discharge ban in 2006.

Simitian said the sewage ban will go far to keep cruise ships, which he called "floating cities," from contaminating coastal waters. "Ask yourself whether you'd like to have a community of three or four thousand people dumping their waste on your doorstep," he said.

But the nation's largest association of cruise lines said on Wednesday that the ban won't affect its vessels because the ships already follow a non-discharge policy as stringent as the federal ban.

"It will have no impact on our members," said Michael Crye, of the Cruise Line International Assn.

Crye said major cruise lines operating off the coast of California have not discharged sewage within three miles of the coast since the state passed the coast contamination law in 2005. Instead, he said, ships store the sewage in large holding tanks until it is discharged at municipal wastewater treatment facilities or eventually emptied offshore.

-- Kate Linthicum