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Environmental Groups Demand EPA Provide Better Protection For Great Lakes

Environmental Groups Demand EPA Provide Better Protection For Great Lakes


Environmental organizations, including the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), are demanding that the EPA strengthen a permit proposal to regulate ballast water discharges, which introduce non-native species, into the Great Lakes from commercial vessels. Non-native ballast water invaders cost $1 billion worth of damage every five years, according to the NRDC.

Ballast water is “a primary method of alien species introduction throughout the world,” according to the MIT Sea Grant Coastal Resources. As much as 3,000 alien species a day are estimated to be transported in ships around the world. Some of the alien species thrive in the new environment they find themselves in, and “can cause disruptions in the natural ecosystem, economic troubles, and even carry human diseases.” The MIT Sea Grant Coastal Resources describes ballast water as coming from ballast tanks, which ships fill to “maintain stability during transit along coasts and on the open ocean.” Large ships often carry gallons of ballast water, and the water may end up discharged or exchanged.

Here’s an example that shows the damage a non-native species can do. In the early 1950s, sea lampreys, a predator that attaches itself to a fish and sucks blood and tissue, began to invade Lake Superior. Before the invasion, the lake trout harvest averaged about 4.5 million pounds, but by 1960 it averaged less than 500,000 pounds.

A long legal battle led to the proposed regulations, and the proposed permit requires two things:

  1. Ships must install technology that meets the International Maritime Organization’s standard to treat ballast water
  2. Ships entering the Great Lakes must employ the added protection of exchanging ballast water to flush out and kill non-native freshwater organisms

Environmental groups think that the proposed regulations still leave the Great Lakes vulnerable to the introduction and spread of invasive species. In addition, environmental groups think they do not add to the Clean Water Act. The groups are asking EPA to make the following improvements:

  • Adopt a zero-discharge standard for invasive species
  • Adopt the most protective technology standards nationwide
  • Develop standards for lakers, ships that ply the Great Lakes
  • Develop a faster implementation timeline to implement new technology standards

The states must certify the EPA’s permit, and the EPA must issue a final permit by November 30, 2012.


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Photo credits: Flickr user, Official U.S. Navy Imagery

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2:10PM PDT on Jul 18, 2013

While I agree with the concept of all of this, I'm not sure that it's entirely fair. Those non-native species did not exactly choose to be brought over.

2:06PM PST on Mar 2, 2012

Yes! Thanks.

2:05PM PST on Mar 2, 2012

There should be mandates on ballast waste disposal in not only the great lakes but also the oceans. We must Protect all waterways!

9:00AM PST on Mar 2, 2012

our environment must be protected, everything must be in balance for survival

7:23PM PST on Mar 1, 2012

We need these Great Lakes to survuve. Please don't pollute them.

2:13PM PST on Mar 1, 2012

Is the picture of that Mk 45 being fired an implication that the author believes that the navy should start summarily sinking those who do not conform?

2:02PM PST on Mar 1, 2012


1:35PM PST on Mar 1, 2012

We must keep on EPA's back to have these icons 'The Great Lakes'
free from environmental damage with the spread of invasive species.
I have never heard anymore about the shipping of nuclear waste through the Great Lakes, which makes my blood curdle. Anybody know??

1:08PM PST on Mar 1, 2012

The Great Lakes have come a long way from 1969 when the Cuyahoga River feeding Lake Erie caught on fire and helped spur the EPA to pass the Clean Water Act. But the lakes still have a way to go yet.

Same with the EPA---needless to say, it's noticeably better now than it was during the dark days of the Bush administration. But it also has a long way to go yet before it can truly live up to it's name. The prodding by environmental groups and ordinary citizens must be relentless.

1:05PM PST on Mar 1, 2012

This is a matter of great urgency. The Great Lakes are iconic places and admired the world over. Please extend and enforce greater protective measures.

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