Panel takes next step towards wastewater report for DEC

Posted: Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Science Advisory Panel's two-day session resulted in an outline for a draft report to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

The next step will be for OASIS Environmental to prepare a draft report using this outline and information already available, including data provided by an Admiralty Environmental study. The panel will review and edit this report at its January meeting and determine if further information is needed for wastewater recommendations to DEC.

The outline states the final report will "evaluate the most effective and economically feasible current and emerging cruise ship wastewater pollution prevention, control and treatment technologies, and perform an analysis of the environmental costs and benefits of implementing new methods and technologies."

DEC cruise ship program manager Rob Edwardson said this is the first time the panel has populated such an outline since its formation by the state last year.

"Now with a firm foundation of knowledge and information gained over the previous three meetings, we look forward to strong progress in future meetings and the work of the panel members between those meetings," he said.

The main sections of the outline include currently used methods and technologies, emerging methods and technologies, environmental cost and benefit analysis, and a conclusion, which will consist of the panel's final recommendations to the DEC majority and minority opinions will be documented.

The final report will consider information currently available through Source Reduction Evaluation, Vessel Specific Sampling Plans, the Environmental Protection Agency and others. Water treatment factors to be considered will include hardness, pH, alkalinity, redox, temperature, total suspended solids and biochemical oxygen demands.

The panel agreed this will allow the members to address their state-mandated tasks of wastewater treatment recommendations.

An issue that arose during the course of the two-day meeting was the possibility of needing further data than that provided by Admiralty Environmental. One purpose of the report is to help determine what, if any, data needs to be studied more. On the panel, marine ecologist Michelle Ridgway said the data in the draft report will be reviewed to identify data gaps and make requests for new studies.

"DEC wants to fully support the panel's activities, including any studies they might recommend to further data for recommending their decisions," Edwardson said.

Funding was an issue discussed about such studies.

DEC Water Quality Program manager Sharmon Stambaugh said about 7 percent of the total budget for the cruise ship program is set aside for contractual spending, which can include scientific research. She said that amount for total contractual spending is currently between $300,000 and $400,000.

"We can augment that if necessary from other sources," she said.

Lincoln Loehr, an oceanographer on the Science Advisory Panel, was pleased with the progress made in the third and final session of the year. He said the report will help recognize feasible options for retrofitting vessels while recognizing severe constraints.

Ridgway was also pleased with the session's progress in identifying important data sources for pollutant inputs and addressing onboard capability systems for removing those contaminants.

"It's inspiring that reports indicate most ships have the onboard capacity to remove most contaminants to meet 2013 ammonia and metal standards," she said. "They're almost there already. We just have to modify some of their operations a bit. In some cases we may need to add a polishing device to remove small amounts of residual heavy metals."

Loehr talked about his expectations of the environmental impact section of the report.

"I believe that the environmental benefits might actually be very small, if at all, because the vessels, when discharging underway, have rapid delusion," he said, explaining that ammonia, copper, nickel and zinc will be attained "within a second of discharge."

He said the Water Quality Standards and wastewater permitting typically allows use of mixing zones and delusion as the means to link WQS to wastewater discharges.

"All municipal discharges in Alaska to marine waters are allowed mixing zones and I support that. In this case we are faced with kind of an oddity of having to meet WQS at the end of pipe," he said. "The Alaskan municipalities do not meet the standards for ammonia and copper at end of pipe and are not required to because mixing is recognized and allowed."

Ridgway said, "Hopefully by the end of this process, we will encourage all cruise ships visiting Alaskan seas to treat 100 percent of their waste stream rather than holding it to discharge untreated sewage just offshore in federal waters. Even at three miles offshore, the effects of heavy metals and ammonia on marine life can be profound, and we know that in the single ocean covering our planet, these contaminants will circulate and accumulate in the food web somewhere."

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at

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