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New rules proposed for cruise ship waste


Cruise ships will have to follow more stringent rules about wastewater discharge in Alaska if the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s proposed permitting system is adopted.

DEC Division of Water deputy director Andrew Sayers-Fay gave a presentation on the specifics of the proposal at Thursday’s Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon. The current cruise ship permit was issued in 2010 and expires in December 2015; the new permit would replace the old. As of 2012, 28 large cruise ships — those with 250 overnight passengers or more — were permitted to operate in Alaska waters, according to the DEC website.

Of those, only 17 were permitted to discharge wastewater in Alaska. State law prohibits cruise ships from dumping untreated wastewater in Alaska waters. Wastewater must be highly treated on board — clear with no visible solids by the time it is released from the vessel. Wastewater treatment systems to treat sewage and graywater are required on each permitted vessel.

The biggest difference in the DEC’s current cruise ship permit and the new one is the way it regulates water quality after a boat discharges wastewater into the ocean, Sayers-Fay said. Under the proposed permit, there are two ways of judging how waste is mixed with ocean water: if it’s discharged while the boat is traveling at 6 knots or faster, or if it’s discharged while the boat is traveling at less than 6 knots or is stationary.

Mixing zones are defined as the portion of a body of water where initial dilution — in this case of cruise ship wastewater — occurs, Sayers-Fay said. The proposed permit would require that water quality be in compliance at the boundary of each ship’s mixing zone.

The zone is different for a moving ship than a stationary one. Of the 17 ships permitted in 2012 to discharge wastewater in Alaska, only seven were permitted to do so while stationary. Under the current permit, stationary ships can discharge continuously. Under the proposed rule change they would first need to meet the mixing zone requirement.

Wastewater released by ships moving across the water dilutes at a quicker rate than that released by stationary vessels, Sayers-Fay said. Once a ship moving at 6 knots or faster releases wastewater, it takes only 21 seconds for it to dilute enough to meet water quality standards.

It’s not like the cruise ships are “leaving muddy footprints across the kitchen floor that shows where it’s been,” he said.

The four chemicals released in cruise ship wastewater that pose the most risk are ammonia, dissolved copper, dissolved nickel and dissolved zinc, Sayers-Fay said. The DEC monitors those chemicals specifically. Through the proposed permit, ships must also monitor wastewater and send in samples to the DEC, Sayers-Fay said.

The new cruise ship permit is up for public comment. More information can be found at Public comment can be submitted via email to

• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at


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