California delays its almost-impossible-to-achieve ballast water treatment standard

California delays its almost-impossible-to-achieve ballast water treatment standard

2020 was meant to be the start date for the California Marine Invasive Species Act (MISA), which would have required a stricter standard of ballast water treatment than that sought by IMO or the USCG. Implementation of the Act has now been delayed until 2030.

The California Marine Invasive Species Act (MISA) is to be implemented in two parts: an interim standard and a final performance standard. The final performance standard calls for zero detectable living organisms. This is a standard higher than that of IMO and beyond that required by the USCG.

The California State Lands Commission, the enforcer of the regulation in California, has recognised that the standards are unachievable with the currently available technology. It was for this reason that in October 2015, California delayed implementing its interim ballast water discharge standards by four years, from 1 January 2016 to 1 January 2020, because of the lack of available treatment technologies.

To the surprise of no one in the ballast water treatment technology industry, the implementation of MISA has been delayed again. In early October California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, signed a bill to delay MISA. The bill, Assembly Bill (AB) 91, delays implementation of the California interim and final ballast water discharge performance standards until 1 January 2030, and 1 January 2040, respectively. The bill itself states that no ballast water treatment technologies were available to meet the standards. The bill incorporates that an assessment of the technology must be made 18 months before the new implementation dates.

Instead, the bill mandates that from 1 January 2020 California is to adopt regulations that require owners and operators of vessels arriving at California ports to comply with the USCG ballast water discharge performance standards.

One concession in the bill was to decrease the distance that vessels must put out to sea to facilitate ballast water exchange. The bill changes the definition of the Pacific Coast of North America to: “east of 154º W longitude and north of 20º N latitude, inclusive of the Gulf of California.”

The bill also allows sampling of ballast water and biofouling for research purposes, as well as compliance purposes.