On February 9, 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officially created the largest “no discharge zone” in the country, banning all sewage dumping from large ships in state marine waters along California’s 1,624-mile coast, along with surrounding major islands. In contrast to prior no-discharge zones, which apply to much smaller areas, this new ban applies to all waters within three miles from the coastline, along with all bays and estuaries subject to tidal influence.
A provision of the federal Clean Water Act allows individual states to request the EPA to establish vessel sewage no-discharge zones to protect and restore water quality. In 2006 the Clean Coast Act, authored by State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), required the State of California to ask the EPA to establish one of these sewage discharge bans. “This is a great day for the California coast, which is far too precious a resource to be used as a dumping ground,” said Simitian in a prepared statement. “This ‘No Discharge Zone’ protects our coastal economy, our environment and our public health.”
The EPA released the proposed rule in 2010 and considered some 2,000 letters from members of the public, environmental groups, and the shipping industry before finalizing the regulation. The ban affects all oceangoing vessels larger than 300 tons with sewage holding tank capacity, consistent with the state’s request.
In a press release, Governor Jerry Brown commented, “This is an important step to protect California’s coastline. I want to commend the shipping industry, environmental groups and U.S. EPA for working with California to craft a common sense approach to keeping our coastal waters clean.”