U.S. EPA Establishes No Discharge Zone in All California Marine Waters

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is establishing a No Discharge Zone (NDZ) for marine waters of the State of California for sewage discharges. Beginning in mid-March 2012, the following vessels will be prohibited from discharging all sewage, whether treated or not, while in California marine waters:

  • Large Passenger Vessels over 300 gross tons or more that have berths or overnight accommodations for passengers.
  • Large Oceangoing Vessels over 300 gross tons, including private, commercial, government, or military vessels equipped with a holding tank with remaining capacity at time of entry or containing any sewage generated prior to entry to California marine waters.

This regulation will not impact:

  • Large Oceangoing Vessels without holding capacity.
  • Large Oceangoing Vessel discharges beyond holding tank capacity.
  • Small Vessels without holding capacity.

Note: a vessel can choose to enter the NDZ without first emptying its holding tank, but then it may not discharge any sewage.

California Marine Waters are defined as the territorial sea measured from the baseline as determined in accordance with the Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone and extending seaward a distance of three miles, and all enclosed bays and estuaries subject to tidal influences from the Oregon border to the Mexican border (see map below). Note: boundaries for this regulation are not to be confused with Regulated California Waters (RCW) for CARB regulation compliance, which extend to 24 miles seaward from the baseline.

Holding Tanks include any tank specifically designed, constructed, and fitted for the retention of treated or untreated sewage that has been designated and approved by the ship’s flag Administration on the ship’s stability plan; a designated ballast tank is not a holding tank for this purpose.

Other California NDZs for ten bays and marinas remain in effect for all vessels. This No Discharge Zone overlaps with portions of the four NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries, adjacent to the California coast (see map), and is consistent with the existing prohibitions on vessel sewage from large passenger and large oceangoing vessels within the Sanctuaries.

Enforcement of the No Discharge Zone: The U.S. Coast Guard will inspect vessels for compliance with the no discharge zone pursuant to section 312(k) of the Clean Water Act. In order to verify compliance, the U.S. Coast Guard will use existing vessel examination and inspection authorities. It may incorporate compliance components within existing inspection and Port State Control exam protocols and procedures to verify vessel compliance with the applicable laws and regulations. The compliance examinations and inspections may include review of inspection records, visual inspections, evaluation of holding tank limits and review of any sewage logs, if applicable. The State of California can also enforce the NDZ.

Effective Date: The Final Rule will become effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register. The EPA expects publication by mid-February with an effective rule date in mid-March, 2012.


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