Vessel Discharge (Ballast Water) Program
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 USEPA 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.
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.
- 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.
- An original “wet” signature must be included on the submitted permit application.
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 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:
- 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.
- Ships are required to conduct ballast water exchange for voyages originating outside the EEZ regardless of installation of treatment systems.
- 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.
- Lakers are required to comply with certain ballast water best management practices.
- 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.
On November 13, 2012, the State of Minnesota Court of Appeals released an opinion affirming the MPCA's decision regarding the final section 401 certification. A document has been filed by the Minnesota Court of Appeals in Case No. A12-1661. View this document on the Minnesota Court of Appeals website.
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 at http://cfpub.epa.gov/npdes/vessels/vgpermit.cfm).
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.
Protecting Lake Superior from aquatic invasive species is an agency priority because of the lake's exceptional recreational, cultural, aesthetic, and scientific resource value as an Outstanding Resource Value Water. It also helps prevent the inadvertent spread of aquatic invasive species to Minnesota lakes and rivers by boaters.
Since the mid-1990s, Minnesota state government agencies, particularly the Department of Natural Resources, have been working to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species using a regional approach.
- Participating in federal regulatory efforts. The MPCA supports ongoing federal efforts to further control vessel discharges in a manner that is protective of Lake Superior and the Great Lakes as a whole. A federal approach to regulating vessel discharges would provide a consistent framework for regulatory programs.
- Coordination with other organizations. The MPCA is committed to working with organizations and agencies that have an interest and role in supporting actions to prevent the spread of AIS. These groups include the Minnesota DNR, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, shipping industry associations, the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, port authorities, local governments, environmental organizations, and international organizations.
Regulatory efforts to control the spread of aquatic invasive species
On March 30, 2005, the Federal District Court in Northern California issued a ruling that the EPA had exceeded its statutory authority when, more than 30 years ago, the EPA issued a regulation excluding “discharges incidental to normal operation of a vessel at 40 CFR 122.3(a)” from Clean Water Act NPDES permit requirements.
On September 18, 2006, the court issued an order vacating the regulation as of September 30, 2008. In 2007, the MPCA joined with the DNR to address this issue. MPCA issued its first ballast water general permit in September 2008 and EPA followed by issuing its Vessel General Permit in December 2008. In 2012, the U.S. Coast Guard adopted rules to control the spread of aquatic invasive species discharged in ballast water. In March 2013, the EPA reissued its VGP with an effective date of December 2013. The MPCA issued a 401 water quality certification for EPA’s 2013 VGP which included additional requirements designed to meet Minnesota requirements for Lake Superior. The MPCA's 401 certification was challenged, but upheld in District Court:.
The MPCA reissued the general ballast water discharge permit on October 11, 2013. Twenty-two comments letters were received from various stakeholders during the permit public notice period.
- List of Comment Letters Received for the Proposed Reissuance of MNG30000 Ballast Water Discharge General Permit
- Responses to Comments on the Proposed Reissuance of MNG3000 Ballast Water Discharge General Permit
The MPCA reissued ballast water permit contains only those requirements not found in the federal programs or in Minnesota’s 401 certification. See Ballast Water Discharge General Permit - FAQ for Vessel Owners and Operators
- Ballast Water General Permit — Application Form : Vessel owners and operators with vessels eligible for coverage under the ballast water discharge general permit should submit this form.
- Ballast Water Discharge General Permit - FAQ for Vessel Owners and Operators : This information sheet answers most commonly asked questions for vessel owners and operators about applying for and complying with the permit.
- Permit Application Checklist for Miscellaneous Waste Types : This form is required along with the Ballast Water General Permit – Application for new and reissuing permits.
- Permit Change Request Form : Use this form to change owners or operators or to terminate your ballast water discharge permit
- Ballast Water Management Program (U.S. Coast Guard)
- Invasive aquatic species: Ballast water (U.S. Dept of Agriculture)
- Invasive Species (U.S. EPA)
- Aquatic Invasive Species (Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality)
- Aquatic Invasive Species (Minnesota Sea Grant)
- Ballast Water Program (Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality)
- Invasive Species (Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources)
- Invasive Species Program (Minnesota Dept. of Natural Resources)
- Marine Invasive Species Program (California State Lands Commission)
- Ballast water (Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway)
- GLANSIS - Great Lakes Aquatic Nonindigenous Species Information System
- Great Lakes Aquatic Nuisance Species (Great Lakes Commission)
- Great Ships Initiative