By Jason Moore, KTUU © 2008

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — New state standards for cruise ship wastewater discharge are stiff. Only 3.1 parts copper per billion, whether it’s a drop of water or a gallon, are allowed under the new regulations.

It’s not much, considering the drinking water in some Alaska communities contains hundreds of parts per billion.

And it’s another example of why the industry is desperate for a more reasonable solution.

Alaska Cruise Association President John Binkley said cruise ship companies are terrified by the new regulations as they prepare for another big tourism season in Alaska.

They can handle the soaring gas prices. They can find ample passengers for their destinations. But how, they say, can they meet these stringent standards?

“So you couldn’t take drinking water from Anchorage and pour it over board off of a cruise ship — it would be out of compliance,” Binkley said.

Binkley’s complaint is directed at standards developed to comply with the cruise ship initiative voters passed in 2006.

Cruise ships aren’t allowed “mixing zones” like their sewage treatment discharge counterparts in most Alaska cities.

And small-trace metals that are found in the water of many communities must be removed on ships, according to the initiative.

Sharmon Stambaugh, with the Department of Environmental Conservation, Wastewater Discharge Program said the state gave the companies until the year 2010 to figure out how to do it.

“We realize that some of the parameters on the permit — the metals, in particular — were not things that a sewage treatment system would address,” Stambaugh said. “So we needed to give them time to look at their system, look at the source materials coming in and give them two years to come in compliance with that.”

The problem, according to Binkley, is that the technology to clean water that well doesn’t even exist, except from mining companies, which use acid to remove metals.

“We don’t want to start a mining operation on board our ship to mine the copper out of the drinking water that we buy from the communities that we visit,” Binkley said.

Binkley said the impossible requirements were tucked into the ballot initiative’s fine print. The initiative also includes a controversial head tax as well as onboard observers and vessel tracking.

Stambaugh admits the state was forced to come up with standards to mandate cruise ship wastewater contain less trace metals than found in the drinking water those ships purchase in Southeast ports.

“It sounds a little counter-intuitive but those limits are lower because fish have a lower tolerance for some exposure to these metals than people do,” Stambaugh said. “But the water that’s in these Southeast communities is eventually going to the sea, right? It is. And the fish are surviving, yes.”

The end result could prove disastrous for some Southeast communities if cruise ship companies are forced to abandon those ports while they motor for federal waters in order to meet the legal discharge requirements.

Binkley said another potential solution could come during next year’s legislative session.

By then, the two-year time period will have elapsed since voters passed the initiative and the Legislature can tinker with the law.

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