Baykeeper Update

California Coast Gets New Protection from Ship Sewage

Cruise ships and other large vessels will no longer be allowed to dump their sewage into the water within three miles of California’s coast, including anywhere in San Francisco Bay or the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The prohibition is contained in a new rule announced last week by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The rule goes into effect next month and applies to treated or untreated sewage from cruise and cargo ships over 300 tons. It creates the largest coastal no-sewage zone in the nation, covering the entire 1,624 mile coast from Mexico to Oregon three miles out into the ocean. The new rule is expected to prevent the dumping of 22.5 million gallons of ship waste each year, including both sewage and gray water (from sinks and dishwashers).

Sewage dumped along the coast can be carried into the Bay. When windsurfers, swimmers, fishermen and others come in contact with water contaminated with sewage, it can cause persistent skin infections and painful stomach disorders. Sewage can also deplete oxygen in the Bay, threatening fish, seals, other sea creatures, and plant life.

Each year, more than 150,000 passengers visit San Francisco in about 50 cruise ships, and 2,000 container ships arrive in the Bay, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The U.S. Coast Guard will be responsible for enforcement of the new sewage dumping rules, but state regulators will also have authority. The EPA can impose stiff fines and penalties on offenders.

California has had a law prohibiting the dumping of sewage sludge and hazardous waste in state waters since 2005. However, the state could not enforce the law without approval from the EPA, which enforces the federal Clean Water Act. The new EPA rule enforces the state law.

In addition to the new ban on sewage from cruise and cargo ships, it is also illegal for small boats to discharge sewage, treated or untreated, into San Francisco Bay or along the California Coast.