The Ohio Environmental Council is calling for the federal government to enact strong ballast water legislation, citing a recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report that identifies areas of the Great Lakes most vulnerable to the entry of aquatic nonindigenous species.
The report, Predicting Future Introductions of Nonindigenous Species to the Great Lakes, notes that the port of Toledo is one of several Lake Erie ports at great risk for future invasion by the species via transoceanic shipping.
“This is an urgent wake-up call that we need strong federal legislation to plug the drain on any new introductions of exotic, invasive pests in Lake Erie,” said Kristy Meyer, director of Agricultural and Clean Water Programs for the Ohio Environmental Council.
The report says some vessels enter the St. Lawrence Seaway without ballast water, but may still contain residual water or sediment containing nonindigenous species in their ballast tanks. After entering the Seaway, the vessels can unload cargo and pick up ballast water that mixes with the residual material and be subsequently released into Great Lakes ports.
There were considerably more discharges into Great Lakes ports from “no ballast” vessels with residual material than from vessels with ballast on board, according to the report.
“Those ports receiving the most ballast water from NOBOB-RM (No Ballast On Board – Residual Material) vessels are Toledo, Ashtabula, and Sandusky, Ohio; Superior, Wisconsin, and Duluth, Minnesota,” the report says. The EPA used ballast water release data from 2006-07 compiled by the National Ballast Information Clearinghouse for its study.
Toledo’s port is also one of the top six receiving the most ballast discharges from vessels entering the Seaway with ballast on board after ballast water exchange outside the Seaway. The others are Duluth; Superior, Green Bay, and Milwaukee, Wisc. and Gary, Ind.
The most frequent original sources of ballast water came from Antwerp, Belgium; Puerto Cabello, Venezuela; Haraholmen, Sweden, and Bremen, Germany.
“It is important to note that there were no clear relationships between foreign and Great Lakes ports relative to ballast water uptake and releases,” the report says. “For instance, 13 vessels that discharged ballast water in Toledo obtained ballast water from 12 different foreign ports.”
The OEC’s Meyer said the report is particularly ominous for Toledo.
“While the port in Duluth… received the most ballast water discharge in total, Toledo’s port - which provides the most suitable habitat for aquatic invasive species – received more than 70,000 metric tons of ballast water discharge from vessels, making Toledo the port of greatest concern,” the OEC said in a prepared statement.
In December, an Ohio EPA water quality certification for Lake Erie shippers took effect. The state permits implement the federal EPA’s general permit for vessel discharges, which require ships to either exchange their coastal ballast water with open ocean water or flush their ballast holds with salt water.
The OEC says the process may work in theory but many species are able to adapt to both salt water and freshwater - species from the Caspian Sea region in particular.
“These destructive pests pose an imminent and growing threat to Ohio’s aquatic biodiversity and economy,” the OEC argues. “Some Lake Erie water users spend $350,000 to $400,000 each year to clear zebra mussels from intake pipes, which can result in increased burden to taxpayers and water users. Federal agencies estimate that clean-up costs of zebra mussels will top $5 billion over the next 10 years for utilities and manufacturers…”
The EPA report used what is called the Genetic Algorithm for Rule-Set Production model to determine habitat suitability. Modeling results were used to produce 14 range maps – one for each of the modeled species – and predict the locations of suitable habitat in the Great Lakes.
“Water depth appears to be the predominant factor limiting the potential spread of many of the modeled species,” the report says. “Yet, at least one species, the quagga mussel, is surviving at greater depths in the Great Lakes than in its native habitat.
The OEC, which describes the Ohio EPA permit process as “weak”, says any federal legislation must:
• Provide strong treatment technology standards 100 times stricter than the International Maritime Organization standards.
• Require vessels to install ballast water treatment technology to meet stringent performance standards by 2012. A two-year extension would be granted if the U.S. Coast Guard determines such technology doesn’t exist.
• Give the Coast Guard enforcement authority and the U.S. EPA authority to review and improve treatment technology standards
• Require no-ballast-on-board ships to salt-water flush until they install treatment technology.