Stowaways Irk State Officials

December 13, 2002
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LANSING— Too many Great Lakes ships are harboring stowaways.

Michigan Attorney General Jennifer Granholm recently joined with colleagues in three other states to ask the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to help solve the problem of aquatic nuisance species in the ballast water of Great Lakes ships.

"By the EPA's own estimates, aquatic nuisance species cause $5 billion in damages every year," said Granholm, who will become Michigan's governor Jan. 1.

With the states of New York, Illinois and Minnesota, Granholm asked the EPA to repeal its exemption of ballast water from federal Clean Water Act regulations, said Gregory Bird, acting attorney general director of communication.

Bird said the CWA requires ships that discharge pollutants to obtain a permit, but ballast water isn't included in the requirement. Michigan and the other states believe the exemption contradicts the CWA, which specifically covers biological materials, he said.

International ships entering the St. Lawrence Seaway are required to exchange ballast water before entering the system, but some vessels can declare that they have no ballast to exchange, said Roger Eberhardt, Department of Environmental Quality Great Lakes water quality specialist.

Eberhardt said that after those ships enter the system, they don't have to follow any regulations. Once in the system, they will take on ballast water, but some of their leftover ballast might be exchanged in the lakes, he said.

"The ships that don't declare any ballast water are the ones we're after," Eberhardt said.

Kamila Datema, a Holland resident and avid scuba diver, said she has mixed feelings about the aquatic nuisance species.

"The zebra mussels have cleared up the water quite a bit," Datema said. "The mussels also cover up all the treasure, like the shipwrecks."

Datema said the introduction of the round goby has been a nuisance.

"Someone told me that the goby eats all the perch eggs and the perch supply is diminishing," Datema said. "Each year, we see these little goby fish keep getting bigger."

Exotic species are taken up in ballast water, often from the Black and Caspian seas, and released in the Great Lakes, causing damage and changing lake ecology, Bird said. He said exotic species have raised havoc in Great Lakes waters for decades.           

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