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State seeks feedback on proposal to make Puget Sound a No Discharge Zone for vessel sewage
The public is being asked to weigh in on a draft proposal to make Puget Sound, including Lake Washington, Lake Union and the Lake Washington Ship Canal, off limits to discharging sewage from vessels.
The Washington Department of Ecology, jointly with the state Department of Health and the Puget Sound Partnership, has drafted a proposal to make Puget Sound a No Discharge Zone and is submitting it as a draft petition to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
As Ecology submits the proposal, though, it is looking for comments and feedback. People can see a map of the No Discharge Zone, and review and comment on the proposal at Ecology’s website.
“We want to reach out and invite comments, questions and suggestions over this draft proposal,” said Ecology Director Maia Bellon. “We’ve worked 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.”
The No Discharge Zone is part of the state Puget Sound Partnership’s Action Agenda to restore and protect water quality in Washington’s inland marine waters.
“When we visit a beach, go fishing or dig for clams, we expect the water to be clean,” said Marc Daily, deputy director of the Puget Sound Partnership. “We must eliminate sources of untreated human waste being dumped into our waterways to ensure that. As called out in the Puget Sound Action Agenda, a No Discharge Zone is an important tool to achieving this.”
“Sewage discharges from boats threaten our health, the environment, and our economy,” said John Wiesman, state secretary of health. “The time has come to put a halt to it. This proposal would protect people from harmful bacteria by making it illegal to dump sewage that can pollute fish, shellfish, and other food harvested from our waters. There are much better, safer ways to dispose of sewage that also protects health and the environment.”
“Puget Sound is the heart of Washington, carrying billions of dollars of trade annually,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark. “It fosters a rich diversity of habitat and draws visitors from around the world to enjoy the pristine views. I applaud Maia Bellon and the Department of Ecology for taking the next step toward preserving this cherished and invaluable ecosystem.”
Currently, federal law allows partially treated sewage to be discharged within three miles of shore. Vessels beyond three miles can discharge without treating.
The No Discharge Zone would require a change in practices by some commercial and larger recreational vessels that use marine sanitation devices to manage their sewage. Current practices allow marine sanitation devices to grind up the waste and add disinfectant before discharging into marine waters. This practice does not meet state standards for protecting water quality and public health.
The amount of fecal coliform bacteria allowed from common Type 1 marine sanitation devices is 72 times greater than the fecal coliform bacteria standard for shellfish beds. It is 10 times higher than the standard for recreational uses of the water by people.
The proposal also includes a phased implementation to allow time for certain commercial vessels that rely on limited treatment systems to retrofit holding tanks for safe onshore disposal.
The vast majority of recreational and commercial vessels already have holding tanks for use at pump-out facilities or they can hold their sewage until they reach the ocean for discharge. There are more than 100 stationary and mobile pump-outs available to recreational vessels. More pump-outs continue to be added to popular boating locations.
EPA has established more than 80 No Discharge Zones in 26 states at those states’ request to protect vulnerable waters from vessel sewage. There is no such zone in Washington. The designation applies only to “black water” sewage from vessels, and does not apply to “gray water” that includes discharges from sinks and showers.
The No Discharge Zone would include the marine waters east of the line, between New Dungeness lighthouse and Discovery Island lighthouse east of Port Angeles, and Victoria to include the San Juan Islands in the north and South Puget Sound and the Hood Canal (see map).
Those interested in reviewing and commenting on the proposal can do so through April 21.
Comments may be sent to:
- Department of Ecology, Northwest Regional Office, Attn: Amy Jankowiak, 3190 160th Ave SE, Bellevue WA 98008