Washington Department of Ecology is pushing ahead with its plan to create a “no-discharge zone” for Puget Sound, which would prohibit the discharge of sewage from boats, even those with a Type II marine sanitation device. Check out my story last week in the Kitsap Sun, Feb. 19 (subscription).
For many people, it is disconcerting to think about mobile toilets traveling everywhere in Puget Sound and discharging their waste anywhere and at any time.
Kitsap Public Health District has gained a reputation for tracking down sources of pollution and getting them cleaned up. If you have a failing septic system, for example, you are expected to get it fixed. Many of the Dyes Inlet beaches between Bremerton and Silverdale were reopened to commercial shellfish harvesting, thanks in no small part to these persistent efforts to clean up bacterial pollution.
Sewage-treatment plants still discharge some bacteria, despite advanced treatment processes. Consequently, shellfish beds are permanently closed around treatment plant outfalls, with the closure zone dependent on the level of sewage treatment. And when there are sewage spills, long stretches of beach may be closed to shellfish harvesting for 10 days or longer.
When they are working properly, Type II marine sanitation devices aboard boats are fairly good at killing bacteria, although levels are still above state water-quality standards. Less certain is what happens to human viruses, including hepatitis, that may not be killed. In addition, marine toilets release chemicals — such as chlorine, quaternary ammonia and formaldehyde — into the water.
To delve further, check out:
- “Report on the Evaluation of Lectra/San Marine Sewage Treatment System for Removal of Viruses in Sewage,” Ministry of the Environment, New Zealand (PDF 184 kb)
- Ecology petition for no-discharge zone, page 41 (PDF 8.1 mb)
- “Facts About Boat Sewage,” Kitsap Public Health District (PDF 556 kb)
It’s not hard to see why the goal would be to eliminate discharges of boater waste into Puget Sound, assuming that sufficient pumpout stations exist for people to offload their waste. Pumpout stations are connected to sewage-treatment systems, which do a better job of disinfection and remove most solids that can contribute to algae blooms and low-oxygen conditions.
Creating a no-discharge zone is one goal of the Puget Sound Action Agenda (PDF 16.4 mb) developed by the Puget Sound Partnership.
Ecology Director Maia Bellon seemed to strike the right tone when she announced the petition for a no-discharge zone (PDF 8.1 mb) in Puget Sound:
“We want to reach out and invite comments, questions and suggestions over this draft proposal. We’re working with boating, shipping and fishing leaders, and now is the time for broader perspective and feedback. Everyone who lives here has a vested interest in a healthy Puget Sound.”
Her approach leaves the door open to some creative solutions for getting everyone in compliance with the no-discharge zone. As I showed in last week’s story, the no-discharge zone could be a hardship for some tugboat and fishing boat operators. One estimate for converting a tugboat is $125,000.
Ecology’s solution so far has been simple: Give those without holding tanks three years to install the tanks and plug up theirs discharge pipes.
Other solutions may be possible, although they could create administrative burdens for Ecology. What about the idea of creating an exemption for boats that have no holding tanks? Boat owners could pay an annual fee for the exemption, and the money could go into a fund to assist owners with the cost of conversion. Maybe a conversion should be required, if necessary, at the time a boat is sold. It’s just an idea.
When applying for an exemption from the no-discharge zone, boat owners should agree to discharge treated wastes at a safe distance from the beach. Maybe they should be required to know where certified shellfish beds are located and stay even farther away.
I realize these ideas would complicate a simple plan, and maybe there are better ideas. In general, I believe that a reasonable solution should be proportional to the problem. We should not kill a rat with heavy explosives, while ignoring the cost of repairs.
To see how more than 20 other states are addressing no-discharge zones, visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s website on vessel sewage discharges and a state-by-state breakdown of no-discharge zones.
When I broke this story in September, I interviewed others who had thoughts on the issue. See Kitsap Sun, Sept. 25 (subscription).
For recreational boaters, check out “Beating the Pumpout Station Blues” by Capt. Mike Brough of the Coast Guard.