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Environmentalists in the Indian River Lagoon area have launched a three-prong offensive against boaters who they claim are engaged in the wholesale dumping of raw sewage into the Intracoastal Waterway, the most ambitious of which is to obtain special federal status for the Indian River Lagoon. 

The Clean Water Coalition has launched an initiative to have the Indian River Lagoon declared a Federal No-Discharge Zone, which means even boats with Coast Guard-approved treatment systems would be banned even from dumping fully treated waste. This is what the group says on its website:

CWC believes that nutrient-pollution impairment of the Indian River Lagoon is sufficient evidence to require a ban as provided under Section 312(f)(4)(A) of the Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. 1322(f). That said, the bureaucratic process of creating a NDZ can be lengthy and complex. In summary, we must show:

1. The Florida DEP must declare that the Lagoon requires enhanced protection from additional sources of nutrient pollution, and

2. The U. S. EPA determines that sufficient pump-out facilities are reasonably available. CWC is working to document and map local pump-out facilities by talking with local marinas, clubs, boatyards, as well as mobile pumpout services. CWC supports the upgrading of pumpout facilities at the City of Vero Beach Municipal Marina.

3. Having determined these two requirements, the state of Florida can ban discharges under authority of 33 U.S. Code § 1322 (f)(1), or the EPA may determine the need, and invoke a ban under § 1322 (f)(4).

The other two prongs have already resulted in changes. Vero Beach Municipal Marina has initiated additional safeguards to discourage direct discharging, and, officials say, state Fish and Wildlife officers will conduct "quarterly sweeps" to look for violations, the TC Palm news site reported. This is what TC Palm said yesterday about Vero Beach's new policies:

Already, the city marina has adopted a new policy requiring all vessels staying overnight to check in and have their sewage tanks pumped out, for free, or show proof of a recent pump-out, said marina Director Sean Collins.

Then a numbered tie wrap is put on the boat's discharge valve to make sure there are no unauthorized discharges during the vessel's stay. Subsequent pumpouts are required every week or so, either by a station on the dock or by a pumpout boat so the vessel doesn't have to move from a mooring to the dock.

Under a planned marina expansion approved in early October by the Vero Beach City Council, Collins said, each boat slip will have its own pump-out connection while vessels on moorings still will be able to use the pump-out boat or station on the dock.

Perhaps the most inexplicable thing about Federal No-Discharge Zones is that the do not permit discharge of waste that has been treated to a high level of purity, using devices approved by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Perhaps the most inexplicable thing about Federal No-Discharge Zones is that the do not permit discharge of waste that has been treated to a high level of purity, using devices approved by the U.S. Coast Guard.

While the city's requirements do not appear overly burdensome, it nevertheless seems that the attention being paid to theoretical bad boaters may be disproportionate, given:

1. Most cruisers are using their holding tanks faithfully, and 

2. Even if all of them were direct dumping, it would not amount to a pinhole in the snow, compared to the spills happening on an almost weekly basis from aging sewage treatment plants in the Vero Beach and Indian River Lagoon areas and throughout Florida. 

In one of the worst examples, TC Palm reported that as much as 3.1 million gallons of raw sewage spilled into the Indian River Lagoon in November 2017 from a broken Vero Beach wastewater pipe. Read this recent news article on the subject: Sewage spills keep taxing Indian River Lagoon

Vero Beach Harbormaster Sean Collins kindly provided the pertinent city ordinances, which appear to indicate that approved marine waste treatment systems may be exempted from enforcement efforts. (That is, if and until that Federal No-Discharge Zone is established such as the one for the Florida Keys.) See below:

Sec. 46-31. - Jurisdiction.

All vessels operated or moored in the waters within the corporate limits of the city and the owners, operators or occupants of such vessels shall be subject to the provisions of this article except to the extent that the area of regulation is preempted by county, state or federal law.

(Code 1982, § 31.01; Ord. No. 84-26, § 1, 10-16-1984) Sec. 46-33. - Refuse disposal.

(a) It shall be unlawful for any person to dump or throw waste material, refuse, petroleum products, or other debris into any waterways in the city. (b) No person shall use or maintain living quarters on any vessel on any of the waters within the city limits of the city unless the vessel shall be equipped with a chlorinator-macerator or holding tank or other equipment sufficient for the purpose of containing or treating all excrement, waste and refuse from such craft, and the excrement, waste and refuse shall be disposed of in accordance with the rules and regulations established for the disposal of such excrement, waste and refuse, but in no event shall any untreated part thereof be released into any of the waters within the city.

(Code 1982, § 31.03; Ord. No. 84-26, § 1, 10-16-1984) Marina Rules and Regulations. Part K.​ 

Garbage, trash, refuse, sewage and waste oil. No refuse, solid or liquid shall be discharged overboard. All garbage and trash shall be placed in receptacles provided. No effluent from toilets, nor oil from bilges, shall be discharged overboard. Waste oil should be brought to the marina office for disposal. Only Coast Guard approved sanitation devices will be acceptable.