Ballast water management has been in disarray for years. But now, the possibility exists of a political and bureaucratic breakthrough.
The risk of introduction of nonindigenous aquatic species into new waterbodies by means of the discharge of ballast water has been recognized for years. Other than high-seas ballast water exchange, there has been until recently no viable means of significantly reducing this risk. When neither the IMO nor the US Coast Guard put forward strong measures, several US states adopted unilateral (and sometimes ridiculous) provisions. After years of debate, the IMO in 2004 adopted an international convention establishing reasonable standards, based on available and developing technology. Ratification, though, has been slow and the convention has yet to come into force.
Now, the US Coast Guard is formally proposing adoption of the convention standards as an interim step. As proposed, the standards for the allowable concentration of living organisms in ships’ ballast water discharged in US waters would come into effect in 2011. Higher standards would be subject to a practicability review in 2015. If technology is found to have sufficiently advanced, the new more stringent standards would come into effect in 2016.
Some environmentalists will complain that this proposal is a cop-out, but it is actually a practical solution to a problem that has been stopped at top-dead-center for some years now. By endorsing the IMO standard, the United States will encourage other nations to ratify the international convention. It also keeps pressure on the IMO and industry to further improve ballast water management technology. With luck, it might convince some US states that the time has come to dismantle their unique ballast water management requirements.