For about two years Washington state’s Department of Ecology has been considering designating nearly all the inland marine waters as a no discharge zone. It’s ready with the plan, but first it wants to know what the public thinks.
It will accept comments until April 21. Later on, after considering what the people have to say, it will be ready to send the proposal to the federal Environmental Protection Agency for approval. The ban would stretch from the southernmost end of Puget Sound, at Shelton
through the populous mid-section (Seattle, Tacoma, Bremerton, Everett) and on north to the Canadian border. It would include Seattle’s Lake Washington and Lake Union. Those are busy waters, with container ships, tankers, ferries, cruise ships, military vessels, tugs, fishing boats and pleasure craft.
The only area exempt would be the Strait of Juan de Fuca, a major international waterway leading to the Pacific Ocean.
Under federal law the discharge of untreated waste in those waters is prohibited. Black water may be dumped when a vessel is more than three miles off shore, however. The state says that onboard treatment systems (type 1 and 2) do not meet state standards for reduction of pollutants, discharging 72 percent more coliform bacteria than is allowed over shellfish beds and 10 times more than the standard for recreational areas.
Only a few pleasure craft carry treatment systems, the state has learned. It also acknowledges that nearly every yacht (more than 90 percent) has a holding tank and that people generally empty them at pump out stations. But some do pump their tanks while navigating.
“Sewage from vessels remains one of many pollution sources facing Puget Sound,” says Amy Jankowiak the DOE administrator leading the NDZ planning. “Even a small number of vessels in small quantities can cause pollution that can be a problem of particular concern over or near shellfish beds.”
Ron Sims, a former chief executive of King County and now vice chairman of the Puget Sound Leadership Council, told a news conference: “Everybody says: ‘My boat won’t hurt anything,’ but you multiply that by a thousand . . .”
The towboat and fishing industry made be hit the hardest, at least financially. It’s estimated that about 130 tugs operate in the affected waters and that only 30 carry holding tanks. It was estimated that the cost of adding tanks would be about $125,000 for each tug.
Although law enforcement agencies could enforce the ban – if approved by the federal government – the state’s intent appears to be to encourage the use of pump-out stations and foster the development of new stations. It’s estimated that in 2011 recreational boaters pumped 4.6 million gallons of black water into shore treatment systems; the total increased to 5.6 million gallons last year.
More information: https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/publidcations/SummaryPages/1310053.html.