The State of Alaska has approved a bill allowing ships’ wastewater to be measured in a mixing zone rather than at the point of discharge.

The issue goes back to 2006, when voters approved a ballot to measure the wastewater quality standards at the point of discharge, which the cruise industry and supporters contended was unfair and impractical.

That requirement was stricter than those for other dischargers in the state, according to Rob Edwardson, manager of cruise ship programs for the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) for the State of Alaska.

He told Cruise Industry News that ships have been able to meet this requirement for all but four parameters – ammonia and dissolved copper, nickel, and zinc. They were not capable of meeting those four criteria by 2009, even though they were using the most advanced technology.

In response to this, the legislature passed a law in 2009 allowing DEC to require cruise ships to comply with less stringent limits than the point of discharge requirements until 2015, and in 2016, cruise ships would be required to comply with water quality standards at the point of discharge.

Edwardson explained that the Governor’s bill gives DEC the ability to authorize mixing zones, if ships are using advanced wastewater treatment systems and can demonstrate compliance with the regulations governing mixing zones. (A mixing zone is the immediate area around the point of discharge.)

John Binkley, president of the Alaska Cruise Association, commented that the discharge meets the required water quality standards seconds after leaving the ship and almost instantaneously with a moving ship.

He also said that in order to release wastewater in Alaskan waters, ships must have advanced wastewater treatment systems. (Otherwise they have to go beyond the three-mile limit.)

According to Edwardson, the bill brings cruise ships in alignment with other wastewater discharge permits issued by DEC.

Supporters have argued that ferries are held to a lower standard (than cruise ships) and that it is not fair to penalize one industry for doing business in Alaska.