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Pacific Southwest, Region 9

Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations

Protecting California's Coast

In a landmark action, Regional Administrator Jared Blumenfeld announced that EPA is proposing to ban large cruise ships and other commercial vessels from discharging sewage within three miles of the California coast, creating the largest coastal “No Discharge Zone” in the United States.

This action will expand the protected area of coastal waters from its present level of 1,755 square miles to an unprecedented 5,222 square miles, safeguarding 1,624 miles of California coastline from the harmful effects of pathogens and other sewage contaminants from oceangoing ships.

officials signing the proposal to ban sewage discharged by ships
Regional Administrator Jared Blumenfeld signs EPA's proposal, joined by (l-r) Frances Spivy-Weber, State Water Resorces Control Board Vice Chair; Linda Adams, Cal/EPA Secretary; and Russell Long, Bluewater Network Founder.

In addition to the state’s ocean coastline, the rule will apply to San Francisco Bay, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, San Pedro Bay, San Diego Bay, Santa Cruz Harbor, and Humboldt Bay. The rule will prohibit the discharge of approximately 20.4 million (80%) gallons of treated vessel sewage currently allowed in state marine waters each year. Twenty million gallons per year would fill a line of tanker trucks 29 miles long.

The rule will also complement the recent ban on treated and untreated vessel sewage discharges in California’s four National Marine Sanctuaries (Gulf of the Farallones, Cordell Bank, Monterey Bay, and Channel Islands). The rule supplements existing, small no discharge zones in place for all vessels.

Map of No Discharge Zone.
Larger versions

California’s ports and ocean waters receive hundreds of cruise ship visits and thousands of large cargo ship calls each year. California is home to three of America’s largest ports—Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Oakland, and three of the country’s largest cruise ship ports—Los Angeles, Long Beach, and San Diego. Other significant ports that handle large ships subject to the regulation include San Francisco, Stockton, West Sacramento, Port Hueneme, and Humboldt Bay.

Although significant ocean water quality improvements have been made due to regulation of land-based municipal sewage discharges and stormwater runoff, vessel sewage has not received the same level of attention until now. Prohibiting large vessel sewage discharges will provide additional protection and improvement of California’s marine water quality vital to supporting unique ecological environments, commercial and economic interests, and human health. Economic impacts to the cruise and shipping industry will be minimal while providing important water quality benefits to California’s marine resources.

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