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Seattle Port Commission votes down reduction of cruise wastewater in Puget Sound

Posted Apr. 24, 2012 / Posted by: Kelly Trout

SEATTLE, WASH. -- Today, the Port of Seattle Commission voted unanimously to set aside two proposed amendments to the 2012 memorandum of understanding (MOU), the agreement between the port, Department of Ecology and the Northwest and Canada Cruise Association that regulates cruise ship wastewater in Washington State. The proposed amendments, which were supported by the state, would have banned the discharge of all cruise ship wastewater in Puget Sound. A coalition of environmental groups criticized the port commission for missing an important opportunity to help lead the region toward a federally recognized No Discharge Zone (NDZ) for Puget Sound, which would ban all vessel sewage discharges, treated or untreated.

The environmental groups Friends of the Earth, People For Puget Sound, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and Surfrider Foundation proposed the amendments to the MOU in order to protect public health and aquatic resources from the discharge of treated sewage and gray water by cruise ships while they are in Puget Sound and the Northwest Straits.

The groups note that cruise ships calling on the Port of Seattle have a large capacity for holding sewage on board -- only two vessels from Norwegian Cruise Lines reported any discharges within Puget Sound in recent years. Although cruise ship wastewater is treated, it is largely not monitored for pollution levels and questions remain about the effectiveness of the treatment. In recent years, some of the same vessels seen in Seattle have received wastewater violation notices from Alaskan authorities. Discharges are more closely monitored in Alaskan waters at the insistence of the State of Alaska. Unlike land-based sewage treatment facilities, cruise ships in Washington do not receive the same level of scrutiny under the Clean Water Act.

The Puget Sound Partnership, Washington Department of Ecology, and the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary have all supported the call for a ban on cruise ship discharges by endorsing the MOU amendments proposed by the environmental groups last fall. All three have sent letters to the Port Commissioners stating their support for banning the discharge of treated sewage and gray water by cruise ships at dock or while traversing in Puget Sound.

In addition to the port, the Northwest and Canada Cruise Association has rejected the amendments to the MOU. The environmental groups note that the association has fought back against public involvement in the regulation of their members’ wastewater.

“The discharge of wastewater from these vessels threatens our shellfish and aquatic resources,” said Chris Wilke, Puget Soundkeeper and Executive Director at Puget Soundkeeper Alliance. “Except for two vessels, cruise ships have already stopped discharging in the Sound, so we know they can do this.” Pollution in Puget Sound is recognized as a top threat that limits recovery efforts for salmon, shellfish and endangered orca whales.

“The last thing our endangered orcas need is to be exposed to the untold diseases and viruses being discharged at the surface by these floating cities of continuous consumption,” said Fred Felleman, NW Consultant for Friends of the Earth. "Cruise ships in Northwest waters can carry as many as 4,500 passengers and crew. They contain many of the same biological and toxic waste streams found in land-based activities including sewage, restaurant waste, medical waste, dry cleaning and maintenance chemicals."

Marcie Keever, Oceans and Vessels Project Director for Friends of the Earth continued, “The cruise association and the port should do more to ensure protection of the very resources that their customers come to view and enjoy, especially given the high percentage of U.S. cruise industry revenue that comes from Alaskan trips, many of which originate in Seattle.”

“Our members are out on the water,” said Jody Kennedy, of the Surfrider Foundation. “They are on the front lines when it comes to pollution. When our members see cruise ships, they have to consider them as a potential source of pollution and threat to human health.”

“The Puget Sound Partnership calls for a ‘No Discharge Zone’ for all or part of Puget Sound,” said Heather Trim, Policy Director for People For Puget Sound. “Having requirements in place to restrict cruise ship discharges are a first step towards getting this in place.”

Contact:
Fred Felleman, Friends of the Earth, (206) 595-3825
Kelly Trout, Friends of the Earth, 202-222-0722, ktrout@foe.org

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