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Western Fisheries Science News, December 2017 | Issue 5.12

February 1, 2018

USGS Expertise and Science Leads to Ballast Water Management Solutions

Photo (left) showing ballast water being discharged from a cargo ship
Photo (left) showing ballast water being discharged from a cargo ship. Large photo on the right demonstrates the operation of the patented nozzle mixing method deployed in an empty ballast tank and the smaller photo shows an experimental way to introduce a biocide into the tank.(Public domain.)

When ships take on ballast water, the water carried in ships’ ballast tanks to improve stability, plants and animals that live in the ocean are also picked up, providing a global transport mechanism for nonindigenous aquatic species. When the ships enter port, and the ballast water is released to accommodate the loading of cargo, nonindigenous species can be introduced into local waters.

Nonindigenous species are having a dramatic negative effect on marine, estuarine, and freshwater ecosystems in the United States and abroad. Negative effects include alteration of the structure and dynamics of the ecosystem, including the killing off of native species.

Methods for addressing ballast water have received considerable attention by regulators and treatment developers, but have had varying degrees of success. There is a pressing need for new technologies that are both cost-efficient and environmentally sound to treat the water in ship ballast tanks and reduce the spread of nonindigenous species.

In 2009, a collaborative effort between the USGS and the National Park Service was initiated to address the challenges of ballast water treatment in the Great Lakes. USGS entered into cooperative research and development agreements with multiple government and private sector entities to solve the problem of the unintended introduction of non-indigenous aquatic species. Barnaby Watten, Assistant Director for USGS Leetown Science Center has a strong background in hydraulic engineering and was familiar with the problem. Scott Smith of the Western Fisheries Research Center (WFRC) spent a significant portion of his career helping to mitigate and prevent the spread of invasive species. Smith brought Dr. Watten together with Noah Adams from the WFRC Columbia River Research Laboratory. Adams and his staff had extensive experience using various methods to direct large amounts of flow to aid in passing fish at hydroelectric dams.

Through this multi-disciplinary collaboration, the team developed a treatment system that both meets the unique operational demands of ships traveling across oceans, through coastal waterways and into ports and reduces the risk of introducing nonindigenous species. They came up with a relatively inexpensive and time effective method to treat ballast water without compromising the stability of the ship. The system uses one or more pumps to supply water and a biocide (to kill nonindigenous species) into the ballast tank through the nozzles. The nozzles are strategically located in the ballast tank to circulate the ballast water and mix the treated water so it can be safely discharged. This technology was patented in 2017 (US 9,688,551 B2) and tested for Coast Guard approval as an acceptable treatment method for cargo ships. Once final approval is received in 2018, the system will be commercialized via an established USGS CRADA (cooperative research and development agreement) partner.

This technology addresses a major problem that affects ecosystems around the world and highlights the innovative role that USGS provides to collaborative projects.  In the U.S. alone it is estimated that more than 50 million metric tons of ballast water from foreign ports is transported annually. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that globally more than 10,000 marine species each day may be transported across the oceans in the ballast water of cargo ships. “I hope that this technology will help minimize the impact nonindigenous species have on our ecosystem” says Adams, “it was rewarding to be able to play a role in developing a relatively simple and inexpensive solution to a complex challenge.”

Newsletter Author: Rachel Reagan



USGS Scientist to Present Webinar on Downstream Fish Passage: On December 14, 2017, WFRC scientist Toby Kock gave a presentation as part of the Joint Committee on Fisheries Engineering and Science webinar series. The presentation titled “Downstream Fish Passage: Improving the Design and Operation of Dam-Based Forebay Collection Systems” provided a review of the environmental, physical, and operating features at forebay collectors with summaries of project-specific performance and factors found to be statistically important predictors of collection success. The Committee hosting the seminar consisted of members of the American Fisheries Society Bioengineering Section and the American Society of Civil Engineers Environmental and Water Resources Institute and was established to foster communication between the two groups, share knowledge, and collaborate on projects related to fish passage.

USGS Meets with Congressional Staff on Issues in the Upper Klamath Basin: On December 13, 2017, USGS Klamath Falls Field Station and Oregon Water Science Center science staff met with Senior Adviser to the Secretary, Alan Mikkeleson and his staff as well as Senior Policy Advisory to Greg Walden, Nick Strader. Staff scientists gave a briefing and held a discussion on fisheries and water management issues in the Upper Klamath Basin. 

In the News

On December 8, 2017, USGS scientist Craig Haskell was quoted in The Columbia Basin Bulletin about a recent article in the journal PLoS ONE describing the shift in food sources for migrating juvenile fall Chinook salmon in the Columbia River.


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Hansel, H.C., J.G. Romine, and R.W. Perry. 2017. Acoustic tag detections of green sturgeon in the Columbia River and Coos Bay estuaries, Washington and Oregon, 2010-2011: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2017-1144, 30 p., DOI: 10.3133/ofr20171144.

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Sformo, T.L., B. Adams, J.C. Seigle, J.A. Ferguson, M.K. Purcell, R. Stimmelmayr, J.H. Welch, L.M. Ellis, J.C. Leppi, and J.C. George. 2017. Observations and first reports of saprolegniosis in Aanaakłiq, broad whitefish (Coregonus nasus), from the Colville River near Nuiqsut, Alaska. Polar Sci. 14: 78-82

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