Marine vessel operators and other companies that discharge into waterways beware: new regulations will be coming your way.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last week signed two bills by state Sen. Joseph Simitian, D-Palo Alto, to clamp down on water pollution. The first one, SB 497, requires the California State Lands Commission next year to adopt regulations on the discharges of ballast water from ships, requiring ship operators to treat the water before discharging it.

When ships leave port, they take on ballast water to provide stability as they navigate the open ocean. Then, when they reach their destinations, the ships discharge their ballast water to raise their drafts in the shallower port channels.

The problem is ballast waters transfer plants and organisms such as clams and crabs native to one area of the globe into another area, harming the habitats of adjacent waterways.

The goal of the Simitian legislation is to rid ballast water of all non-native organisms by 2020, requiring ship operators to treat the ballast water before discharging it in California ports and marinas. It will be up to the state Lands Commission, which has regulatory authority over ports, to come up with the timetables and exact standards.

The shipping community, which opposed California's unilateral effort to set standards for what it regards as an international issue, fought for a provision for regular reviews of the regulations to ensure that they did not get too far ahead of treatment technology.

"We really don't know what it's going to take to meet the standards set out in this law," said John Berge, vice president of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association in San Francisco. "Obviously, there will have to be some sort of onboard treatment systems installed on all ships calling on California ports, but as of now, the technology simply isn't there yet."

Berge said that at this point setting a benchmark standard might actually be a good thing, since "that would give the technology developers something to strive for."

As for the ultimate cost to the shippers, Berge said much will hinge on how expensive the new treatment technologies prove to be.

The other bill Schwarzenegger signed, SB 729, also by Simitian, gives more authority to the State Water Resources Control Board and regional water quality boards to conduct water quality investigations and impose penalties for violations of pollution standards. This means construction firms and various industrial plants that have water discharges will have to make sure they are in compliance with existing regulations or face a higher risk of penalties.

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