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Ocean Disposal Site Designation

The Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA) authorizes EPA to designate areas for ocean dumping and requires sites selected in locations that mitigate adverse impacts to the greatest extent practicable.  

Under MPRSA section 102, EPA is responsible for designating sites for the ocean dumping of all materials, including dredged material. EPA designates ocean disposal sites through rulemaking and sites are published at 40 CFR 228.15. EPA bases the designation of an ocean disposal site on environmental studies of a proposed site, environmental studies of regions adjacent to the site, and historical knowledge of the impact of disposal on areas similar to the sites in physical, chemical and biological characteristics. All studies for the evaluation and potential selection of dredged material disposal sites are conducted in accordance with the criteria published in 40 CFR 228.5 and 228.6. Only dredged material that is permitted (or, in the case of a federal navigation project, authorized) for disposal under the MPRSA may be disposed in an EPA designated ocean dredged material disposal site.

EPA is also responsible for the management of the designated ocean disposal sites. For further information about ocean disposal sites, visit our Ocean Disposal Sites Web page or see the Code of Federal Regulations for the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act Part 228EXIT.  

Under MPRSA section 103(b), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), in consultation with EPA, can select an “alternative” site for dredged material disposal for short-term use in the cases where it is not feasible to use a designated ocean disposal site. EPA must concur on use of “alternative” ocean sites selected by USACE for the disposal of dredged material.

Ocean Disposal Site Criteria

EPA must consider the ocean disposal criteria published in the 40 CFR 228.5 and 228.6, when selecting a site for designation. In general, sites are selected in areas where disposal will not have a significant impact on various amenities such as fisheries, coral reefs, endangered species or other legitimate uses of the ocean.

Ocean MonitoringCurrent and wave sensor.Some specific factors considered in a site designation evaluation include:

  • geographic position of disposal site;
  • depth of water at disposal site;
  • bottom topography at disposal site;
  • oceanic conditions at disposal site;
  • existing water quality and ecology of disposal site;
  • natural resources that use disposal site or nearby areas;
  • proximity to beaches, historical/cultural sites and marine sanctuaries;
  • interference with shipping, fishing, recreation and other legitimate uses of the ocean;
  • types and quantities of waste that will be disposed at site; and
  • feasibility to manage and monitor the site.

The evaluation process includes conducting oceanographic studies to establish the environmental conditions at all alternative locations being considered as potential sites, as well as the area or region encompassing the alternative sites. Results from oceanographic studies and other sources are used to model likely dispersion and deposition of material disposed at the alternative sites and evaluate potential impacts. This information is used to select the best ocean site proposed for designation.

By critically analyzing the site selection criteria, EPA assures that the site selected for designation will not likely cause significant adverse impacts to the surrounding marine environment. EPA analyzes these impacts through environmental assessments or environmental impact statements for site designations.