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Ballast Water is Topic of Symposium

Brad Moore

Brad Moore, commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, makes a point during the ballast water symposium as Richard Stewart (left) and Adolph Ojard (right) look on. Photo Credit: Brett Groehler, UMD

Efforts to regulate ballast water discharges from Great Lakes ships are coming from many directions and are as varied as the types of species they seek to prevent. To help make sense of the issue, Minnesota Sea Grant staff facilitated a ballast water symposium supported by the Duluth Seaway Port Authority during the Minnesota Invasive Species Conference.

Adolph Ojard, director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, began the four-hour discussion with a nod to the impending 50th anniversary of the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway and the great expectations of its original developers.

Richard Stewart, director of the University of Wisconsin-Superior Transportation and Logistics Research Center, agreed with Ojard's assessment that North Americans must return to the water to keep freight moving in this era of fuel shortages, carbon footprint concerns, and highway gridlock. He emphasized the Seaway's binational status, reminding the audience that Canadian interests must help direct strategies used to manage the Great Lakes and could significantly increase maritime traffic as Canadian transportation opportunities expand.

Brad Moore, commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), the entity responsible for Minnesota's recent ballast water rules, which are noteworthy for including lakers, explained the state's position.

"We didn't want to do a paper exercise on a challenge that clearly requires action," said Moore. "Lake Superior has only about one third of the 125 non-native species found in the Great Lakes. Minnesota's goal is to prevent the ship-mediated spread of invasive species to Lake Superior while supporting a viable shipping industry. We would like to see federal action in this area, but with the lack of this action, we felt we had to move forward. The MPCA is working closely with other Great Lakes states, several of which are poised to enact similar ballast water regulations."

Ryan Seiger, an envoy from the U.S. House of Representative's Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, followed Moore at the podium. He shed light on federal efforts to minimize the risks of spreading invasive species through maritime activities.

"The International Maritime Organization's (IMO) 2004 standards took Capitol Hill by surprise," Seiger said. "That the world community could agree was remarkable."

Seiger also commented that many in Washington, D.C. were startled when the proposed U.S. standards were even stricter than the IMO's and when several states crafted their own initiatives.

Seiger reported that the difficulties regarding federal regulation of ballast water are twofold. First, ambiguity surrounds which agency should be responsible for enforcing the laws. The Environmental Protection Agency is accountable under the Clean Water Act; but the Coast Guard also has jurisdiction under the National Invasive Species Act. Second, some senators are concerned that caveats in the Clean Water Act could allow nonproductive lawsuits. The federal government wants to ensure that this loophole is closed.

Nicole Dobroski, an environmental scientist with the California State Lands Commission, explained her state's slant on ballast water management. "Ballast water exchange, although better than nothing, is not as effective as we might wish. However, in our evaluations, we found that out of 30 treatment systems, only one might meet state standards."

Dobroski suggested that more treatment systems might pass performance tests by the time the standards begin to be enforced in 2010. She noted that no system reliably dealt with viruses.

Sarah Bailey, a research scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, followed with a data-rich presentation. Her research, which is soon to be published, focused on the spread of organisms through the ballast water carried by the Great Lakes fleet. Of the 74 taxa Bailey identified in ballast samples, seven were known invasive species; 90 percent of the ballast water samples examined contained at least one of these invaders.

Lakers move about 70 million metric tons of ballast water among Great Lakes ports annually. The results of the three-year investigation generated compelling arguments for continuing to improve lakers' ballasting practices.

Jim Weakley, president of the Lake Carriers' Association, emphasized that jobs were at risk and remarked that outfitting just one laker with ballast water treatment systems could cost up to 18 million dollars due to vessel design issues. He gave a distilled version of his presentation in one slide: "Federal Legislation Stalled, States Frustrated; the battle to stop more introductions will be won or lost in the ballast tanks of ocean-going vessels." Weakley stressed that U.S. lakers are unique vessels requiring special consideration in ballast water regulations and that they play a vital role in the energy, steel, and manufacturing industries.

The symposium concluded with a Great Ships Initiative (GSI) trifecta. Allegra Cangelosi, co-principal investigator of the GSI freshwater ballast research project, explained the project's goals to incubate technology, monitor harbors for invasive species, help defray the enormous costs of putting ballast treatment technologies aboard ships, and conduct post-installation studies. Euan Reavie, research associate at the University of Minnesota Duluth and GSI affiliate, followed with a question, "Are we killing the algae in ballast water?" The answer: "We're making progress." Matt TenEyck, pursuing a doctorate at the University of Minnesota, is examining seasonal density and diversity of 42 species of zooplankton in the Duluth-Superior Harbor.

The symposium audience left with a better grasp of the complexity of the ballast water challenge, and a glimpse of the significant efforts that are moving ballast water management and treatment strategies forward.

By Dale Bergeron and Sharon Moen
December 2008

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