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Wastewater talks continue today

Posted: Friday, October 22, 2010

The Science Advisory Panel reconvenes in Centennial Hall today to continue its work on researching methods of achieving effective and economic wastewater discharge standards.

Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Michael Penn/Juneau Empire

The panel began discussions Thursday on methods of achieving Alaska Water Quality Standards, or WQSs. The goal today is to draw on these discussions to decide if the existing data is sufficient to report treatment recommendations to the Alaska Department of Conservation.

The main points of Thursday's discussions stemmed from a water quality report prepared by David Wetzel of Admiralty Environmental. The report discussed metals, specifically copper, nickel and zinc, in bunker water at different cities.

DEC cruise ship program manager Rob Edwardson said the study shows that metal levels do meet drinking water standards but are above water quality discharge standards for cruise ships concerning protection of aquatic life.

He said it's not clear how the metal levels affect the discharges.

The panel's dilemma was deciding how or if to use the data from this study. They discussed if further independent studies or more data collection are needed.

Michelle Ridgway, who is a marine ecologist and occupies the non-governmental organization seat on the panel, said data are limited because they do not objectively reflect the water ships are taking on board. She said it's a snapshot providing limited information that does not reflect what's in Alaska's drinking water. This is reflected by the report's author.

The report summary states, "Please note that the regulatory limits in the ADEC cruise ship wastewater permits are significantly lower than drinking water regulatory limits for the State of Alaska, and this data should not be evaluated in the context of human safety for drinking water consumption."

Ridgway said more data are needed on the metals ships take on in different cities like San Francisco, Seattle, Ketchikan and others stops.

She also said more study should be devoted to the wastewater treatment systems themselves. She said the systems on the ships are important in dealing with bunker water metals for passengers and these system recommendations are the purpose of the panel anyway.

A main inhibitor to further data that was discussed is the state has not clarified a budget for research for the panel.

Ridgway said the WQSs are important because they affect the plankton, fish, whales, birds and other sea life that help make Alaska a destination for cruise travelers.

"Water Quality Standards are directly connected to protecting marine life and the food web that brings the visitors here to Alaska in the first place,"said.

Aside from water quality, Thursday's session topics included basic ship design, vessel classification and equipment certification.

The Science Advisory Panel was established in 2009 by House Bill 134. It was designed to provide unbiased assessments of commercial passenger wastewater treatment systems. This is its third meeting of the year.

Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.



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