Wastewater treatment & permits

Cruise ships discharge water that is treated to some of the world’s most stringent standards. Michelle Bonnet Hale, the former director of the Division of Water in the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), said it would be a step backward to require ships to hook up to community-based systems, as some have suggested. “Ironically, the discharge limits on the cruise ships are more stringent than those of the community systems. Cruise ship effluent is cleaner.”

After the Alaska State Legislature passed tough, new wastewater discharge standards in 2001, the industry invested more than $200 million to develop and install onboard technology to comply with these standards, including retrofitting existing ships. Today, cruise ships in Alaska have some of the best, most advanced wastewater treatment facilities in the world.

In February 2013, the Alaska Legislature passed, and Gov. Sean Parnell signed, HB 80, which allows DEC to permit operation of wastewater discharges from large commercial vessels in a manner consistent with other dischargers.

The law was supported by the findings of the Cruise Ship Science Advisory Panel, which was charged by the Legislature to examine wastewater treatment systems used by commercial passenger vessels, identify other “economically feasible methods” that could be employed and then analyze “environmental benefit and cost” of requiring additional technology.

“The Science Panel concluded that given the current level of wastewater treatment and quality of effluent, along with very large dilution factors, there would be little, if any, demonstrable environmental benefit in requiring cruise ships to adopt, in the future, potential additional treatment methods,” the governor wrote to the Legislature.