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SB 497: Ballast Water Discharge Standards (2006)


SB 497 (2006) implements recommendations by the State Lands Commission to significantly reduce the tremendous economic, ecological and human health impacts of invasive species discharged in vessel ballast water in California waters.

Final Status and Text

SB 497 is no longer active. Its final status was:
Signed into Law

You can read its final text on the Legislature's Bill Information site.

Background Information

Ballast Water:  A Leading Cause of Bioinvasions

Invasive species are non-native or non-indigenous plants, animals, bacteria and viruses, discharged into the marine environment from ballast water stored in large vessel holding tanks.  Ballast water is commonly taken up when ships are loaded in port and discharged when a ship reaches its destination.  Twenty-one billion gallons of ballast water are discharged into U.S. waters each year – about 2 million gallons per hour – and at least 7,000 different species of marine life are transported in ballast water throughout the world each day. 

What are the Effects of Bioinvasions?

Bioinvasions are the second leading cause of species extinctions,  impact more than half the species listed under the Endangered Species Act, and impose tremendous environmental costs and ecological damage.  Approximately $120 billion per year is spent for controlling all species; $1 billion per year on just six aquatic species.  Ten million dollars is spent annually to control the sea lamprey in the Great Lakes; $2.3 million is spent to suppress a Mediterranean seaweed (Caulerpa taxifolia) in southern California; billions of dollars have been spent eradicating zebra mussels in the Great Lakes.  Ballast water has been found to contain harmful E coli bacteria and the cholera virus.   

San Francisco Bay is one of the most invaded estuaries in the world.  Up to 97% of the total organisms, and 99% of the biomass of the San Francisco Bay/Delta Estuary is non-native; mostly from ballast water.  The San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board determined that bioinvasions are “one of the greatest threats to the integrity of the San Francisco Estuary ecosystem, perhaps as great as any pollutant under the Clean Water Act,” and that there should be “no exotic species introductions.”  Yet one new species is established every 14 weeks.  Asian clams consume the primary food sources for local fish species and bioaccumulate toxic metals, and Chinese mitten crabs clog water intake screens, consume juvenile salmon and undermine levees.

How is Ballast Water Regulated?

California requires ships to exchange ballast water at sea before discharging into state waters.  Federal law and regulations also require ballast water exchange or equivalent treatment before discharging into U.S. waters and the Great Lakes.  However, ballast water exchange is an ineffective and short-term solution,  and neither state nor federal law requires specific standards to reduce the amount of invasive species in ballast water. 

To address the lack of adequate regulation and protect their economies and natural resources from bioinvasions, states like Michigan have passed laws to implement ballast water discharge permits under the Clean Water Act.  EPA passed regulations decades ago exempting ballast water from the requirements of the Clean Water Act.  However, a federal court in San Francisco recently invalidated these regulations, holding that the exemption clearly exceeded EPA’s statutory authority.  Consequently, EPA and states with delegated permitting programs such as California must begin developing programs to address ballast water discharges under the Clean Water Act.

SB 497 Would Enact Standards to Reduce Bioinvasions from Ballast Water

In January 2006, the California State Lands Commission recommended that the Legislature move from the current ineffective system of ballast water exchange, to performance standards that reduce the rate of bioinvasions in ballast water pursuant to specific goals and timetables.  SB 497 would enact the Commission’s recommendations by requiring the following ballast water standards:
• No detectable discharges of organisms larger than 50 microns by vessels constructed on or after 2012, and all older vessels by 2016. 
• The phased reduction of smaller organisms, bacteria and viruses discharged by all vessels 2016.
• No detectable levels of all invasive species discharged from ballast water by 2020. 

SB 497 would also:
• Preserve the ability of the State Water Board to take actions to address invasive species under the federal Clean Water Act.
• Reduce incentives for noncompliance by increasing penalties for violating the Act’s standards and reporting requirements to the levels set by the U.S. Coast Guard.
• Convene an independent scientific review panel to evaluate the effectiveness of the standards, and make recommendations for biological monitoring and research.
• Grandfather vessels currently experimenting with new ballast water treatment technologies approved by the State Lands Commission for five years.
• Note:  Costs for the program would not be borne by the public but would be paid for by existing fees.

News & Press Releases about SB 497

08/25/2010 - Simitian Welcomes EPA's 'No Discharge' Ruling for Ships

08/24/2010 - Ban on sewage dumping along California coast to get federal teeth

05/29/2007 - Quest: San Francisco Bay Invaders

08/31/2006 - Coastal Protection Measure Sent to Governor -- Toughest Standards in the Nation