Port of San Diego looks into updating in-water hull cleaning policy

The port district is also pursuing a comprehensive approach to reducing vessel pollution.

SAN DIEGO—Copper and in-hull water cleaning has been off The Log’s radar for quite some time, but the issues has come back into relevance recently, thanks to interests in Marina del Rey and officials in San Diego broaching the topic of Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL, in recent weeks. Port district staff sought the board’s direction to update an ordinance on TMDL and in-water hull cleaning.

TMDL and in-water hull cleaning policies was the subject of the Port of San Diego’s most recent board meeting. Port district staff spoke with commissioners about the future of TMDL, copper loading, in-water hull cleaning and other vessel pollution matters at the board’s Oct. 8 meeting.

The port district has been under a state mandate since 2005 to reduce copper pollution at Shelter Island Yacht Basin. San Diego’s Regional Water Quality Control Board has specifically required the Port of San Diego to reduce copper loading into Shelter Island Yacht Basin by 76 percent before the end of 2022.

Commissioners directed port district staff to develop and update the district’s TMDL and in-water hull cleaning policies. Port district staff was also directed to pursue a comprehensive approach to vessel pollution.

Karen Holman, the port district’s director of environmental protection, presented updated research on vessel pollution, best available science and boater outreach initiatives.

Port district staff, in their TMDL presentation to the board, provided examples of copper-reduction initiatives at other marinas and harbors. Marina del Rey, for example, was granted a conditional approval to conduct Site Specific Objectives Studies (SSO Studies), according to Kelly Tait, a port district program manager.

Tait added Newport Beach is still finalizing its TMDL plan, while Washington state banned the cleaning of hulls with soft and toxic coatings (otherwise known as ablative paints). Copper levels, according to Tait, could increase by five to 10 times higher than state standards with diver-based cleaning practices.

Local yacht clubs and marinas expressed their commitments to work with the port district on improving water quality in San Diego Bay, Tait continued.

Somewhat complicating matters, however, are reports of illegal sewage discharged by local boaters. The port district is investigating the matter and using dye-tablets to discover the source of discharges.

“District staff has met with the Port tenants Association, marina managers, and private individuals to accept complaints and receive information on several occasions and has conducted several investigations,” port district staff stated in a report to commissioners. “Enforcement, including the issuance of citations and fines, has occurred when sources have been identified. However, source identification has been challenging since the discharges are not often observed linked to a source and wind and tidal action quickly move discharges throughout the bay.”

Other potential vessel pollution matters are also being investigated, according to Holman.

“We’ve also investigated major maintenance activities that have been occurring in the slips, such as sanding or a full update to a hull’s exterior,” Holman told commissioners. “These activities can also release pollution, and they have the presence of solvents and other waste and debris, all having the potential to get on the docks and into the water.”

Public Outreach

The port district held two public outreach events on Oct. 2 and 3, gathering input about TMDL policies and hull cleaning practices. There were concerns about the effectiveness of monthly cleaning, for example. Tait added various perspectives were offered on “cleaning frequency and duration of time needed between painting.”

Members of the diving community stated they do not clean with ablative paints, Tait continued. Also mentioned at the public outreach events: boatyards should play a role in identifying effective paints; and, improve education and training requirements for divers.

Additional workshops could be held in November and December; an ordinance update, complete with new requirements, could be in front of the board as early as January 2020; implementation of the updated ordinance, if approved, could take effect in February 2020.

The port district’s TMDL compliance deadline for Shelter Island Yacht Basin is Dec. 31, 2022.

Port district staff hopes to engage as many boaters and marinas as possible in the final stages of TMDL compliance – especially when it comes to vessel pollution.

“District staff is also exploring a more holistic approach to vessel pollution rather than trying to tackle each issue separately,” port district staff stated in a report to commissioners. “Of the 35 marinas in San Diego Bay, 23 are members of the voluntary Clean Marine Program, meaning that most of the marinas are already familiar with and should be implementing and imposing upon their members strict vessel discharge requirements.

“While staff has received some public input on the issues and suggestions for how to resolve various reported vessel discharge issues, additional engagement and evaluation are needed,” port district staff continued.

Updates to the port district’s in-water hull cleaning policy, meanwhile, would include new best management practices, such as once-per-month cleanings and mandating use of a soft carpet as cleaning material.

“Any updates would be implemented bay-wide and would include provisions that in-water hull cleaners, marinas and yacht clubs, and boat owners must follow,” port district staff said in a report to the board. “Outreach has already been occurring to the target audiences: boaters, marinas/yacht clubs, in-water hull cleaners, boatyards, and the boating community at-large.”

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3 thoughts on “Port of San Diego looks into updating in-water hull cleaning policy

  • October 24, 2019 at 1:37 pm
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    More environmental friendly paints are already available and have been for some time now.Divers should always use soft carpet in my opinion ,but some don’t because they get return business more frequently as they wipe away your paint and cause barnacles to grow faster.

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  • October 28, 2019 at 8:41 am
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    Tom Rega, that is a very ignorant statement. First off, nobody uses soft carpet these days as there have been better commercially manufactured products that are not abrasive. Secondly, “environmentally friendly” paints have proven not to work in our waters after 10-11 months and barnacles, etc can grow on painted surfaces in just 10-14 days of paint that is only months old. Regarding the “return business,” divers return regardless of your paint condition every month. It is in the divers’ best interests to preserve the paint as it makes their job easier. You really are a clueless.

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    • November 29, 2019 at 8:15 am
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      Billy Knickerbocker nails it. I’m not sure why some people have such a hard-on for hull cleaners, but they do. This guy Tom Rega is clearly one of them. The inference that divers intentionally remove anti fouling paint in order to increase fouling on their customer’s boats (and thereby increase business) is ludicrous at best and ignorant at worst.

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