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RI Coastal Resources Management Council

...to preserve, protect, develop, and restore coastal resources for all Rhode Islanders

RI’s ballast water management program at risk

See the program here (PDF)

February 22, 2017, Wakefield –A ballast water management program developed by the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) and R.I. Department of Environmental Management (DEM) to thwart the spread of aquatic invasive species through commercial shipping vessels’ ballast waters is at risk of never being fully implemented.

Only a few months after the first-ever U.S. Coast Guard approval of the first three shipboard ballast water treatments systems during December 2016, a vital component of the Rhode Island program, the potential passage of the Commercial Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (S. 168) [VIDA] by Congress could strip states’ ability to protect their waters, using programs like the Rhode Island initiative, authorized under the Clean Water Act.

“Coastal states with ballast water management programs are three to six times more effective than the national average in preventing the discharge of raw unmanaged ballast water, and thus provide the highest level of protection against the introduction of invasive species in our coastal and Great Lakes waters,” the Northeast Aquatic Nuisance Species Council wrote in a recent letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer.

In Rhode Island, the ballast water management program – modeled after California’s program – would be executed through a specialized DEM water quality certification, and under the program, CRMC has the authority to board commercial vessels entering Rhode Island waters and sample their ballast water. On-board systems, which meet both US and surpass United Nations standards, include technologies such as a fine screen, and UV light treatment to kill any invasives that pass through the screen. The CRMC hopes to field test the USCG-approved ballast treatment systems, which have so far only been tested through labs and one very tightly-controlled test-vessel, but that won’t happen if VIDA passes, according to CRMC Marine Resources Specialist Kevin Cute. (Though the program was developed in Rhode Island in 2012, having the on-board treatment system technology is a key component of implementing the program.)

Cute estimated that if the Rhode Island program is allowed to go forward, after he and DEM officials were satisfied with the three currently-approved (and any future treatment systems in real-world applications), regular monitoring would occur only to test new systems. Any subsequent arrivals in RI waters would be monitored randomly, to ensure proper functioning, so as to not tax the shipping industry to an unreasonable degree.

“No one would be more grateful than the coastal states if we could test the systems in the real world, and if we’re permitted to do that, it would also support the industry that builds them,” Cute said. “It’s not an onerous, open-ended monitoring program; all we’re looking for is adequate time and tests on these systems to make sure they’re working.”

Some unique elements to the Rhode Island ballast water management program include:

  • The operator of any vessel covered under the ballast water management program, in addition to the onboard system, will still be required to conduct ballast water exchange or flushing beyond the EEZ, at least 200 nautical miles offshore and in water at least 2,000 meters deep;
  • The discharge of bilge water from any vessel covered under the program whose voyage begins outside the EEZ must discharge all existing bilge water before entering RI waters;
  • In addition to the monitoring requirements, all vessels operating in RI waters, after a ballast water treatment system is installed, must sample and analyze the ballast water discharge at least once a year, using protocols from either the State of California or U.S. Coast Guard, and results submitted to the EPA and RIDEM; and
  • Graywater discharges to nutrient or pathogen-impaired waters from vessels must also be managed in accordance with the program. A list of impaired RI waters is available at http://www.dem.ri.gov/pubs/305b/index.htm.

For more information on the Rhode Island Aquatic Invasive Species Management Plan, which the CRMC implements for the state, go to http://www.crmc.ri.gov/invasives.html. Cute serves on the Northeast Aquatic Nuisance Species Panel and Council on behalf of the CRMC. The letter sent to the senators was on behalf of Rhode Island and all of the other New England states and New York.


Stedman Government Center
Suite 116, 4808 Tower Hill Road, Wakefield, RI 02879-1900
Voice 401-783-3370 • Fax 401-783-3767 • E-Mail cstaff1@crmc.ri.gov

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