State weighs ban on sewage discharges from boats

SEATTLE (AP) - State regulators are considering a proposal that would prohibit all boats from discharging sewage into Puget Sound, whether it is treated or not.

The Department of Ecology says the move would protect sensitive shellfish beds, marine life and swimming beaches from harmful bacteria, but some boat groups have raised concerns about costly retrofits.

"This is a pollution source that we can prevent," said Amy Jankowiak, the project lead with the Department of Ecology.

The proposed "no discharge zone" was one of many strategies identified in the Puget Sound Partnership's ambitious plan to improve and protect water quality in the region.

"Everyone who lives here has a vested interest in a healthy Puget Sound," Ecology Director Maia Bellon said in a statement.

The designation would cover Puget Sound, which stretches from near Sequim to south Puget Sound to the Canadian border, and includes Lake Washington, Lake Union and the Lake Washington Ship Canal. It would not apply to the Columbia River or the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

More than two dozen states have established no-discharge zones, which must be approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Ecology has been considering the idea for two years. The agency said Wednesday it is taking public comment on a draft proposal, before it submits a formal petition to the EPA. If approved, it would be the first zone established in the Northwest.

Currently, boaters are allowed to pump treated sewage overboard anywhere in Puget Sound. Vessels can only dump raw sewage in ocean waters more than 3 miles from the coast.

Many vessel owners currently pump out toilet waste at stationary facilities, hold waste in tanks, or treat the waste.

But most commonly used treatments don't treat sewage adequately to more stringent state water quality standards, Ecology officials said.

"Although the total volume of vessel discharge is small compared to other sources of wastewater, the ability to discharge near or in shellfish beds with little or no treatment presents a significant public health risk," Jankowiak said.

Charlie Costanzo, vice-president of the Pacific region for The American Waterways Operators, said the proposal will be costly for many tug boat operators.

"It's seems like an easy community to target, but I don't think it is delivering added benefits to Puget Sound," he said. He said it would cost at least $125,000 to add a holding tank, not including other costs.

Costanzo said Ecology hasn't shown that treated discharge from vessels is having a negative impact on Puget Sound, and he pointed to several other sewage sources.

Jankowiak said there's "enough evidence that vessel discharges compound Puget Sound's existing health problems."

Most recreational boaters already have holding tanks or can comply with the rule by using pump out facilities, she noted.

The proposal would be phased in to allow vessels time to meet the requirements.

Doug Levy, state lobbyist for the Recreational Boating Association of Washington, said his group was concerned that the entire Puget Sound would be designated off limits, rather than certain targeted, shallow areas where shellfish beds are prevalent.


(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Top Stories

  • Growing Strong
    Seattle marijuana farmers are busy preparing their first crop for retail sales

  • Not the End
    Officials have another trick up their sleeves to help save King County's bus service

  • Go Sherm!
    Richard Sherman recognized along with Beyonce, Jeff Bezos and the Pope
ATTENTION COMMENTERS: We've changed our comments, but want to keep you in the conversation.
Please login below with your Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Disqus account. Existing MyNorthwest account holders will need to create a new Disqus account or use one of the social logins provided below. Thank you.
comments powered by Disqus
Sign up for breaking news e-mail alerts from MyNorthwest.com
In the community
Do you know a student who stands out in the classroom, school and community?
Help make their dreams come true by nominating them for a $1,000 scholarship and a chance to earn a $10,000 Grand Prize. Brought to you by KIRO Radio and Comprehensive Wealth Management.

Do you know an exceptional citizen who has impacted and inspired others?
KIRO Radio and WSECU would like to recognize six oustanding citizens this year. Nominate them to be recognized and to receive a $2,000 charitable grant.