Wisconsin Seeks Input on Ballast Water Permit

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Secretary Matt Frank will accept comments on a proposed state ballast water permit until March 23. The proposed permit requires commercial ocean-going ships and those transporting cargo between Great Lakes ports to take steps to reduce aquatic invasive species in the ballast water they release into Wisconsin waters.

“This state permit will help protect our waterways from aquatic invasive species while maintaining a robust shipping industry in Wisconsin,” Frank said. “We believe this permit provides strong protections without damaging the shipping industry. We will continue to see strong national legislation as the best solution to address this problem.”

The permit would be valid for five years. Ocean-going ships would have to meet strict standards for the number of living organisms allowed in the ballast water they discharge in Wisconsin ports.

  • Beginning in 2012, assuming commercially viable technology is available, existing ocean-going ships would have to meet a standard for living organisms in the ballast water they discharge that is 100 times more protective than the standard proposed by the International Maritime Organization. New York uses the same standard.
  • Beginning in 2013, assuming commercially viable technology is available, new ocean-going ships would be required to meet a standard that is 1,000 times more protective than the proposed international standards, and the same as California’s.
  • Commercial vessels that move only among Great Lakes ports, known as “lakers,” would not have to meet a ballast discharge standard in this general permit, which would be effective through 2014. However, they would be required to immediately take steps to prevent spreading aquatic invasive species around the Great Lakes. These steps, or best management practices, are required upon coverage of the permit. A sediment management plan shall be maintained and conform to the U.S. Coast Guard standards.

A treatment standard for lakers may be included in the next general permit that DNR would issue. In the meantime, Wisconsin will be working with Minnesota to evaluate the various treatment systems available to commercial shippers.

“The best solution to this problem is a federal one but we cannot wait for Congress to act,” said Secretary Frank. “This permit will help stop the spread of these invasive species that take a steep toll on our Great Lakes, inland waterways and $13-billion tourism industry.”

More than 180 nonnative fish, plants, insects, and organisms have entered the Great Lakes since the early 1800s, disrupting the food chain, fouling beaches, clogging infrastructure, and costing citizens, industry, and businesses more than $200 million a year. Research has shown the primary way aquatic invasive species enter the Great Lakes is when ocean-going vessels discharge the ballast water they’ve carried on the ship to provide balance.

The DNR has prepared an environmental assessment of the proposed general permit and does not anticipate the permit will result in significant environmental impacts. The department has made a preliminary determination that an environmental impact statement is not needed.

The EA is available for public review and can be found online at http://dnr.wi.gov/news/mediakits/mk_ballast.asp or obtained from the permit drafter, Paul Luebke. Public comments should be sent to Luebke, 608.266.0234 or Paul.Luebke@wisconsin.gov.