MPCA logo


Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

Search, View and Navigation

Beta - Dynamic

MPCA e-Services

tinyURL : mvri913 | ID : 485Home   >   Water   >   Permits and rules   >   Water permits and forms

main content

Vessel Discharge (Ballast Water) Program


Vessel discharging ballast water (Photo courtesy of L. David Smith, Smith College, MA)


The transportation industry on the Great Lakes is vitally important to Minnesota's economy. However, discharges of ballast water from oceangoing and laker vessels may contain aquatic invasive species.

The MPCA, working with other state, federal, tribal, and international organizations, is taking steps to address this threat through a ballast water discharge permitting program and by encouraging the development of ballast water treatment technologies to control the introduction and spread of invasive species by ballast water.

On October 11, 2013, the MPCA reissued its ballast water discharge general permit: Ballast Water General Permit.

The permit regulates the ballast water discharges of commercial vessels that transit the Minnesota waters of Lake Superior and covers both seagoing and Great Lakes-only vessels that are required to obtain the US Environmental Protection Agency’s  (EPA) Vessel General Permits (VGP).

Minnesota ballast water requirements

Vessels transiting the Minnesota waters of Lake Superior that are required to submit a Notice of Intent to obtain coverage under the 2013 U.S. EPA Vessel General permit are required to obtain a Notice of Coverage under the Minnesota permit. In addition to the vessel requirements in the EPA VGP and Minnesota’s ballast water general permit, vessels must follow the requirements in Minnesota Statutes and in Minnesota’s 401 certification of the VGP. These requirements are outlined below. Please see the FAQs for answers to common questions about meeting Minnesota vessel discharge requirements.

General permit

Vessel owners who are required to obtain the VGP and wish to transit Minnesota waters of Lake Superior must submit the following permit application forms and permit fees as soon as they know their vessels will be entering Minnesota waters. Vessels that routinely transit Minnesota waters should submit a permit application at least 180 days before entering Minnesota waters. Vessels that infrequently transit Minnesota waters should submit a permit application no later than 30 days before the anticipated arrival date to Minnesota waters. However, MPCA understands that vessel routes are not always known 30 days in advance; in these situations, applications should be submitted as soon as possible so the vessel can obtain coverage under the permit before entering Minnesota waters.

  1. If a Ballast Water and Sediment Management Plan (plan) has previously been approved by the MPCA and has not been modified since approval, permittees may include a statement in a cover letter to the permit application stating the date of the previously submitted plan and stating that the plan does not require revisions instead of submitting a new copy.
  2. An original “wet” signature must be included on the submitted permit application.

Permit application fees and annual fees can be paid electronically using the MPCA's e-Services portal.

Minnesota’s 401 certification

The MPCA submitted its 401 certification to the EPA in a letter dated September 2012 and amended the document in February 2013. Two 401 requirements need to be initiated by vessel owners and operators for 2015 to maintain compliance with the 401:

  1. By December 19, 2015, Lakers are required to have the capacity to collect samples of organisms from ballast water tanks.
  2. By December 19, 2015, Lakers must begin collecting samples and analyze ballast waters at least annually for organism composition and density or have a work plan approved, completed individually or in partnership, for a ballast discharge biological study. For vessels that are not part of a biological study or in a partnership to complete a study, submit monitoring data by February 28, the year after the data has been collected. Monitoring data shall be submitted to the MPCA Attn: WQ Submittals Center 520 Lafayette Road North St. Paul, Minnesota 55155-4194. For vessels that are part of a biological study, submit study results in accordance with the schedule contained in the MPCA approved study plan.

The conditions in the 401 certification were not duplicated in the MPCA ballast water general permit. As a condition of the EPA VGP, vessels must conform to the following 401 modifications:

  1. Ships in Minnesota waters are required to obtain and comply with the conditions of the existing Minnesota’s SDS permit or subsequent modifications of the permit.
  2. Ships are required to conduct ballast water exchange for voyages originating outside the EEZ regardless of installation of treatment systems.
  3. Minnesota may prohibit a discharge, require a discharge to occur in a particular area, or require emergency treatment of any ballast water it designates as “high risk” ballast water.
  4. Lakers are required to comply with certain ballast water best management practices.
  5. Additional monitoring requirements were imposed. For vessels required to meet the EPA VGP numeric discharge limits, once-per-year monitoring of ballast water is required. Ships not required to meet the EPA VGP numeric discharge limits are required to conduct annual monitoring or conduct a biological study of ballast water. The biological study may be completed by shipowners on their own or in cooperation with others.

Please review the entire 401 certification for detailed requirements. 

The EPA VGP also lists out Minnesota 401 requirements, and the permit documents can be found on the EPA's Vessel Discharges webpage.

Minnesota statutes

In 2008, the Minnesota Legislature adopted Minn. Stat. § 115.1701-115.1707. Minn. Stat. § 115.1703 requires vessels to develop, and the MPCA to approve, BWMPs. The conditions required for the BWMP are detailed in the ballast water permit application. Minn. Stat. § 115.1705 requires vessels to keep records of ballast activities. Both the BWMP and the record book are requirements in the general ballast water discharge permit.

List of vessels with permit coverage

Disclaimer: Although the MPCA makes every attempt to ensure that the information placed on this website is accurate and current, this site may not contain all of the vessels issued coverage under the permit by the MPCA. All ballast water permit applications and related documents are available for inspection at the MPCA's Duluth office, 525 Lake Avenue South, Suite 400, Duluth, MN 55802.

What are vessel discharges?

During the normal course of ship operations, ballast water is taken on or discharged by ships to accommodate changes in the weight of the ship due to fuel loading and use, loading and unloading of cargo, and to increase the stability of a ship due to adverse weather conditions. Ballast water uptake and discharge typically occurs at port operations, but also can occur during transit between ports.

Vessels also have other discharges such as deck runoff, bilge water (water that collects in the lowest part of the ship's hull and may contain oil, grease, and other contaminants), water from cooling and firemain systems, chain locker effluent, and gray water (waste water from showers, sinks, and kitchens). EPA’s VGP covers over 25 specific discharge categories. Minnesota’s permit only covers ballast water discharges.

Sewage discharges from ships are currently regulated under federal rules. Of these discharges, ballast water by far is the greatest in volume.

Ballast water brings unwanted species

This graphic demonstrating how ballast water may transfer unwanted aquatic species is for illustrative purposes only. © Ray Grumney Star Tribune March 26, 2008. Republished with permission.

Permit-related documents

  • MS Word Document Ballast Water General Permit — Application Form (wq-s8-02) : Vessel owners and operators with vessels eligible for coverage under the ballast water discharge general permit should submit this form.
  • PDF Document Ballast Water Discharge General Permit - FAQ for vessel owners and operators (wq-s8-03) [status: currently unavailable] : This information sheet answers most commonly asked questions for vessel owners and operators about applying for and complying with the permit.
  • MS Word Document Permit Application Checklist for Miscellaneous Waste Types (wq-wwprm7-04c) : This form is required along with the Ballast Water General Permit – Application for new and reissuing permits.
  • MS Word Document Permit Change Request Form (wq-wwprm7-01) : Use this form to change owners or operators or to terminate your ballast water discharge permit




Great Lakes


For more information

  • Beth Gawrys, Ballast Water Permit Coordinator, 651-757-2380
  • John Thomas, Permit Compliance, 218-302-6616
  • Jeff Udd, Water Quality Permits Supervisor, 218-302-6637
  • Jeff Stollenwerk, Water Quality Permits and Compliance Manager, 218-302-6612
Last modified on September 08, 2015 09:41

additional content