Just 12 days prior to the first cruise ship arriving in Alaska, the Department of Environmental Conservation issued a final large cruise ship general permit. The permit establishes the rules by which cruise ships may discharge treated wastewater in Alaska, effective 2010 to 2012.

The final permit makes a number of changes to the draft permit released in February. Testimony from the public workshop indicated the initial draft permit would have been very problematic. Certain limits applied to large cruise ships would have been unachievable by more than half of the vessels already using the most advanced technology in Alaska to treat wastewater. The draft permit would have likely caused itinerary changes, including reduced times in port, causing further economic harm to small businesses bracing for 142,000 fewer visitors this year.

Rather than one set of criteria applied to all vessels, the new permit establishes at-motion limits based on individual technology installed on the ships. These limits are based on the 99th percentile of each system’s best performance over several years of actual test results. Ships that use water conservation methods, for example, will no longer be disadvantaged for having slightly higher concentrations as a result of lower volumes.

DEC’s research found that treated wastewater discharged at a minimum of six knots results in a dilution ration of 50,000 to 1. The dilution is so significant DEC concluded that discharges at motion meet Alaska’s Water Quality Standards nearly instantaneously. In a recent press release, DEC Water Division Director Lynn Kent said, “No one will see or measure an adverse impact on water quality or aquatic life as long as the ships comply with the permit.” Given the effectiveness of current technology, complying with the at-motion limits this year should not be a problem.

This new approach will basically be phased in over two years. In 2010, DEC will collect and test samples. If there is an exceedance while underway, DEC will require the ship to report the incident and explain what corrective actions will be taken in order for the ship to comply by 2011.

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