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EPA signs ship sewage rule, no dumping within three miles from CA shore

Photo by millerm217 via Flickr Creative Commons

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Beach-goers can expect less sewage in the surf this season thanks to a new dumping rule that goes into effect next month.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency signed on Thursday a rule to keep cruise ships and other large commercial vessels from unloading sewage that's too close for coastal comfort.

Restrictions ban large ships from discharging sewage, regardless of whether it's treated, within three miles of the California coast.  Officials estimate the rule, which takes effect in March, will keep 22 million nasty gallons from mingling with state coasts every year.

Treated waste water still carries bacteria and chemicals that harm the coastal ecosystem – not to mention people.

Palo Alto state senator Joe Simitian wrote a state law banning the release of sewage sludge and water off-shore back in 2005.

"This is also a public health issue and it is frankly an economic vitality issue for California," according to Simitian.

California Secretary for Environmental Protection Matt Rodriguez says that the state petitioned federal officials to make the rules stick.

"We've been waiting here at Cal EPA to enforce these laws for more than seven years," said Rodriguez. "This is just a tremendously important action that will give us final authority that we've been seeking."

Southern California sewage treatment plants release hundreds of millions of gallons a day of effluent into Santa Monica Bay and other coastal waters. Federal and state officials point out strict standards already exist for those onshore facilities.

California’s authority over offshore-sewage dumping along all 1600 miles of coastline takes effect in March.

The U.S. Coast Guard will be inspecting vessels for compliance.  Now, back to those $1000 fines for beach frisbee. Here's more on the fun ban.