Group challenges ballast water regulations

Discharging ballast water
All ballast water contains living organisms. When these organisms are picked up in one place and discharged in another, big trouble can result.
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey

An environmental group is challenging the state's new permitting process for ballast water from ships.

The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy has asked the state Court of Appeals to reject the current policy. The group says the permit program takes effect too slowly and the standards are too weak.

Zebra mussels
Zebra mussels are just one of many invasive species that have entered the Great Lakes through ballast water dumped by oceangoing ships. They have also been found in the Mississippi River and in inland lakes.
Photo by Simon van Mechelen, University of Amsterdam

MCEA Scientist Henry VanOffelen said the deadline for ship owners to install treatment systems should be sooner than 2016. He said the state needs a better way to prevent the release of exotic animals carried in ballast water.

"The discharge of these organisms poses a serious threat to Lake Superior. And once it gets in Lake Superior, it certainly could get into inland lakes. Something like VHS would have a dramatic impact on our recreational fisheries in this state," VanOffelen said.

VHS is a virus that's deadly to many kinds of fish.

Minnesota's permit system for Great Lakes ships took effect October 1.

VanOffelen said the standards are also weaker than those adopted by California.

How ballast works
This diagram shows how large ships take on ballast water when their cargo load is light, and discharge ballast when they load new cargo. Invasive species are often discharged along with the ballast water.
Graphic courtesy of the International Maritime Organization

A state pollution control official said the implementation schedule is aggressive and reasonable.