Several state agencies have joined forces to petition the federal Environmental Protection Agency to ban the discharge of sewage from boats in Puget Sound. Everyone concerned about the future of the Sound, and the immense ecosystem it sustains, should support this initiative.
Existing law allows boaters to discharge raw sewage directly into Puget Sound waters if they are 3 miles from a shoreline. Large vessels, such as cruise ships and freighters, can dump titanic volumes from their holding tanks into the Sound using unreliable marine sanitation devices.
Even when these devices are working properly, the discharge can contain bacterial levels 72 times the fecal standards for shellfish operations.
The Puget Sound Partnership, the Department of Health and the Department of Ecology have all urged the EPA to take this necessary next step to preserve water quality in an already fragile body of water. Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark is also supporting the petition.
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Many responsible boaters use the 100 fixed-site pump-out stations located around the Sound or the 15 mobile pump-out vessels that will travel to boaters. And the DOE estimates that about 90 percent of boats in the Sound already have holding tanks and would require minimal, if any, retrofitting.
Once the EPA creates a no-discharge zone, public and private marinas would have the incentive to provide additional convenient facilities, and there may be grants available to assist them.
The biggest impact will be on about 100 of the 130 tugboats that ply the Sound without sufficient holding tanks or plumbing. Retrofitting those vessels could cost as much as $125,000. The DOE has suggested tugboat operators might also have access to financial assistance.
Puget Sound can no longer tolerate lightly regulated sewage discharges from boaters. It’s estimated that on sunny summer weekends, more than 58,000 boaters enjoy cruising in the Sound.
That presents a serious danger to the multi-million dollar shellfish and fishing industries that depend on a healthy Puget Sound. Taxpayers have already spent more than $1 billion on restoration and conservation projects that are to some extent undermined by the dumping of raw sewage from boats.
Tenth District Congressman Denny Heck and U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, have picked up the work of former Congressman Norm Dicks to protect the Sound. They support the no-discharge zone petition.
We think most Washingtonians do, too. Whether a family digs clams, fishes for sport, runs a marine-based business or just enjoys various forms of recreation on the nation’s second-largest estuary, it’s time to declare Puget Sound a no-discharge zone.
Citizens can comment on the petition until April 21 at 1.usa.gov/1kZA9nW.