By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News
After 10 years of discussions, a federal agency today will unveil standards aimed at limiting invasive species in the Great Lakes and other waterways in the United States.
The U.S. Coast Guard is expected publish new guidelines for ballast water discharged from shipping vessels, though environmental groups say the rules will not do enough to solve the problem going forward.
While the rules will require the use of technology to remove unwanted species carried in the ballast tanks of vessels, conservationists insist that the requirements are only a marginal improvement from current standards.
Ballast water is stored in tanks aboard vessels, and used to balance them. The vessels’ tanks are often filled in international waters, gathering species not native in United States, then usually released into local lakes and rivers.
Jennifer Nalbone, campaign director for Navigation and Invasive Species with Great Lakes United, noted that the establishment of national ballast water discharge standards means that “commercial vessels will no longer be able to merely dump their ballast tank contents in the ocean, but must install technology to kill or remove unwanted invasive species carried in their ballast tanks.”
Nalbone said that though the new national requirements need to be much stronger to prevent invasions, the Coast Guard’s rule marks “a starting point, a milestone that must be improved upon.”
Her organization along with other conservation groups and even state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman also have been critical of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which began discussing a possible measure to require permits that would limit the number of invasive species dumped in the Great Lakes and other bodies of water, though not eradicate the various species. A final decision from the EPA is expected in November.
The non-native species can endanger native plants and wildlife. For example, Zebra Mussels, already pervasive in lakes Erie and Ontario, can become jammed in the pipes of water treatment facilities, costing local municipalities millions to remove.
Nalbone said Great Lakes United and others will now use a provision of the Clean Water Act in pushing the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to install stricter standards than the proposed federal regulations, which could do a more thorough job of eliminating invasive species.
“The states can still push for the stronger standards necessary to truly get the problem on their shores under control,” said Thom Cmar, attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a statement. “The leadership of states such as California, New York, and Michigan has helped drive the development of more protective standards at the federal level, but the Coast Guard rule still falls far short of the strong action that is needed to solve this multi-billion dollar drain on our Great Lakes and coastal economies.”