Puget Sound may become no-sewage discharge zone

BREMERTON — Boaters on Puget Sound would be prohibited from releasing any sewage — treated or untreated — if the Washington Ecology Department persuades the federal Environmental Protection Agency to declare the sound a “no discharge zone.”

Under current rules, boaters are allowed to release treated sewage, but they should be using pump-out locations, said Amy Jankowiak, the department’s leader on the effort.

If the no-discharge zone is approved it would include recreational and commercial vessels in all inland waters south of the Canadian border and east of Dungeness Spit, which is near Sequim (skwim) on the Olympic Peninsula, the Kitsap Sun reported Wednesday (http://bit.ly/1eK6hIU).

Ecology officials decided last week to petition the EPA for the designation and a draft petition is expected to be ready for public review by the end of the year, Jankowiak said.

“We’ve gone through almost two years of doing research and talking with stakeholders,” Jankowiak said. “We’re ready to move forward with a draft petition.”

Under the federal Clean Water Act, states have no authority to regulate sewage from vessels except within no-discharge zones. Nationwide, more than 80 no-discharge zones have been approved in 26 states, Jankowiak said.

Several commercial and recreational boating organizations have been involved in the planning, yet they remain unconvinced of the need to establish a no-discharge zone.

“Recreational boaters want a clean Puget Sound,” said Steve Greaves, president of the Recreational Boating Association of Washington, “but it’s difficult to see how a no-discharge zone covering all of Puget Sound is going to change anything.”

Since dumping raw sewage is already illegal, the discharge of some treated waste seems insignificant, he said. Ecology has been unable to say how much the water quality would be improved if such sources were eliminated.

“We would like to quantify the size of the problem,” Greaves said. “Where does this rank compared to all other pollution? Once we know the size of the problem, we might be able to find other ways to handle it. Meanwhile, we’d like to continue to dialogue and come up with a better solution.”

Washington residents own more than 47,000 boats over 21 feet, according to Ecology figures. Nearly 700 commercial vessels stay in Puget Sound year-round, based on estimates from 2005. That year, oceangoing ships made nearly 3,000 trips into Puget Sound.

Large cruise ships have agreed voluntarily not to discharge their treated sewage into Puget Sound, but the no-discharge zone would establish a permanent, enforceable rule.

About 100 public pump-out facilities are located in Puget Sound, along with 13 pump-out boats, according to Ecology figures.

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