Cruise ship waste: All ashore?

Seattle Post Intelligencer
February 9, 2007

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/303063_cruise09.html

By KRISTEN MILLARES BOLT
P-I REPORTER

The cruise ships that come to Seattle each summer bring something you don’t find advertised in glossy brochures — millions of gallons of human waste.

All that waste can fuel blooms of algae, the decomposition of which strips oxygen from the water and, if certain species grow, can make shellfish poisonous to people.

There are many ways to handle that waste, but officials at the Department of Ecology would like the Port of Seattle to consider taking environmental protection one step further as they prepare to spend $60 million on a new facility for the ships near Magnolia.

They’d like the cruise ships to look at pumping waste ashore, where it would be treated and used for fertilizer on farms and forestlands.

It appears port staff and the cruise industry aren’t eager to explore the idea, but environmentalists and some commissioners — including Port Commission President John Creighton, who has made environmental stewardship a top priority — aren’t backing down.

“They make such a big deal about the systems they have bought for treating wastewater, but what they don’t tell you is that after those fancy filters are done, they dump this concentrated crap into the ocean,” said Fred Felleman, a Bluewater Network environmental consultant who is active in maritime environmental issues. “This is a great opportunity for the port to demonstrate its environmental leadership.”

Creighton would like the commission to get a full appraisal of the idea from port staffers, who he believes have been stonewalling with misleading information about the onshore capacity to handle the waste.

Environmentalists want the port to study the matter now, so any plan could be implemented when the cruise terminal’s construction begins in June with a projected opening in April 2008.

Creighton thinks the port may not want to include any changes to sewage disposal in the new Terminal 91 project because it would drive the project’s price tag — which includes an additional $59 million for making Terminal 30 suitable for containers — past the $120 million trigger point at which the commission could yank its approval.

When the port staff asks for the commission’s authorization of the environmental impact statement this month, Creighton hopes to get enough votes to keep the project moving while allowing the port to expand its environmental efforts without passing the financial cost to the taxpayer.

Dealing with waste

The average Alaska-bound cruise ship generates about 28,000 gallons of sewage sludge during the seven-day jaunt from Seattle, according to port staff. From May to September of this year, 150 cruises are bound for Alaska from the Port of Seattle.

They will generate about 4.2 million gallons of sewage sludge. That’s not even counting the 50-plus other cruise ships sailing through Seattle next year.

At present, the cruise lines have a few options for dealing with waste:

Collect the waste to dry and burn before dumping it.

Collect the waste to dry and burn it and send it ashore.

Collect it to be properly treated and handled by an onshore private company.

Collect it and dump it into the ocean 12 miles offshore, the most cost-effective option that complies with federal law and then some.

The vessels go 12 miles to dump the waste because of an international agreement that extends the U.S. protections against sewage sludge dumping by nine miles.

Locally, much has been made of a North West CruiseShip Association accord with the port and Ecology to prohibit its members from discharging untreated sewage into Puget Sound. In response to environmental concerns in ports of call such as Seattle, the cruise lines have begun deploying more advanced sewage-treatment systems onto their vessels.

“All the ships that operate in this region — 27 ships out of Vancouver, Seattle and San Francisco — all have advanced wastewater-treatment systems onboard that purify the water to near drinking-water standards,” said North West CruiseShip Association John Hansen.

Under the Port of Seattle agreement, cruise vessels can use those systems to strain the solid material from the raw sewage. Once the solids are separated, the rest is treated and can be discharged into the water within one nautical mile of the port berth while the ship is traveling at 6 knots.

That deal has been trumpeted by the cruise lines and the port.

But what cruise spokesmen don’t like to talk about is how — after treating the raw sewage before discharging it into the sound — most vessels store the concentrated waste that is left until they are 12 miles offshore and dump it into the ocean.

Some operators, such as Royal Caribbean, have committed to drying and burning all sewage sludge. Others that pass through Seattle still use outdated systems for treating and are not allowed to dump any of their wastewater in Puget Sound.

Friday, February 9, 2007
DUMPING GUIDELINES

RELATED CONTENTS
Dumping Agreement btw WA and cruise ships
http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/dayart/pdf/cruise_mou.pdf

The vessels go 12 miles to dump the waste because of an international agreement that extends the U.S. protections against sewage sludge dumping by nine miles.

Locally, much has been made of a North West CruiseShip Association accord with the port and Ecology to prohibit its members from discharging untreated sewage into Puget Sound. In response to environmental concerns in ports of call such as Seattle, the cruise lines have begun deploying more advanced sewage-treatment systems onto their vessels.

“All the ships that operate in this region — 27 ships out of Vancouver, Seattle and San Francisco — all have advanced wastewater-treatment systems onboard that purify the water to near drinking-water standards,” said North West CruiseShip Association John Hansen.

Under the Port of Seattle agreement, cruise vessels can use those systems to strain the solid material from the raw sewage. Once the solids are separated, the rest is treated and can be discharged into the water within one nautical mile of the port berth while the ship is traveling at 6 knots.

That deal has been trumpeted by the cruise lines and the port.

But what cruise spokesmen don’t like to talk about is how — after treating the raw sewage before discharging it into the sound — most vessels store the concentrated waste that is left until they are 12 miles offshore and dump it into the ocean.

Some operators, such as Royal Caribbean, have committed to drying and burning all sewage sludge. Others that pass through Seattle still use outdated systems for treating and are not allowed to dump any of their wastewater in Puget Sound.

In December, Ecology invited members of King County’s wastewater division to a meeting between the port and the cruise lines to discuss pumping the waste ashore into King County storage tanks that would be built to handle sewer overflows during rainy winter months.

“I believe that if a sludge intake pipe is feasible, it may be a very worthwhile project to pursue,” Creighton wrote some of his supporters. “It could be a signature project of our green-port efforts.”

During summer weekends, nine cruise ships leave and arrive in clusters.Filing in and out of the Port of Seattle like ducklings, many travel the same path through the Strait of Juan de Fuca and through the open ocean close to the west side of Vancouver Island before going eastward to catch the upper half of the Inner Passage.

“Three leave at a time through the strait, so one could be discharging on top of the discharge of another,” Felleman said.

After the sewage sludge hits the propellers and fans out into the water, nutrient-deprived algae begins using the sludge to grow. That algae begins to grow quickly, forming blooms that, like the sludge, are decomposed by bacteria that consumes oxygen in the process. If too many cruise ships dump their sewage sludge in the same spot, it can create areas of oxygen-deprived water devoid of marine life.

Pumping the waste ashore would eliminate that scenario.

If cruise ships were to pump waste ashore, it could be treated and used for fertilizer spread either on farms or recovering forestland, such as the Mountains to Sound Greenway.

Greg Bush, the manager of planning and compliance for King County’s wastewater division, said the upcoming Interbay expansion project also could be suited for sludge storage and transportation in the summer.

Once the waste is on shore, it could be trucked to the South Treatment Plant in Renton or piped to the West Point Treatment Plant in Magnolia. At both facilities, the waste would be turned into fertilizer.

The cruise lines are hesitant to say it’s a good idea, even if the port puts up the money for the infrastructure, because it would mean paying for the disposal of waste they can dump or burn at their own discretion.

An Interbay pumping station is already in place close to the docks that would be used by the cruise ships, and it is hooked up to the West Point Treatment Plant by a large pipe.

That station, West Point, and the pipe that connects them all have capacity in the summer to handle output from the cruise lines, according to Bush and West Point Manager Jim Pitts.

But in materials prepared for a presentation to the commission, port staffers wrote that West Point and the connecting pipe didn’t have the capacity, which Creighton said isn’t true.

What is not clear at this point, Bush said, is whether another pipe that runs by the docks and the short distance to the pumping station could handle additional waste. Running pure sewage sludge through pipes meant for both raw sewage and storm water could also cause the pipes to corrode, King County engineer Eric Davison said.

The port needs to reconcile all the concerns, Creighton said.

Commissioner Bob Edwards believes the port needs to take time to study the matter, saying the sludge project is an add-on that should be put off.

“Is this as high a priority as cleaning up Puget Sound?” Edwards asked.

P-I reporter Kristen Millares Bolt can be reached at 206-448-8142 or kristenbolt@seattlepi.com.

~ by fredfelleman on February 9, 2007.

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