Whether the vessel is a cruise ship, a catamaran or a tugboat, the marine community in Washington may be facing expensive changes that could help clean up some prime Seattle-area boating spots.
A number of agencies have joined forces to ask the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to consider making Puget Sound, Lake Washington, Lake Union and the Lake Washington Ship Canal “no-discharge zones,” or areas where it is illegal to dump any sewage from boats of any size.
For some boats, it would require retrofitting the holding tanks or plumbing. Of the 130 tugboats operating in Puget Sound, only 30 have sewage systems that make them capable of holding sewage for a period of time, said Amy Jankowiak, the Puget Sound No Discharge Zone project leader for the state Department of Ecology (DOE).
The remaining 100 tugboats would have to be retrofitted at a cost of approximately $125,000 per tug, Jankowiak said.
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There are some grants that may be available to help as well as grants for communities to build additional pumping stations.
Ninety percent of the boats in use in the area probably won’t need modifications to meet the requirements, said Chris Wilke, executive director of Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, a nonprofit environmental group.
Federal regulations now allow dumping partly treated sewage within three miles of shore, and vessels can dump untreated sewage in water beyond that. The DOE, the state Department of Health and the Puget Sound Partnership have drafted a petition, asking the EPA to ban dumping sewage in those waterways. The agencies are seeking public comment on the proposal. Comments can be made on the DOE website: 1.usa.gov/1kZA9nW.
“Puget Sound doesn’t stand abuse easily,’’ said Ron Sims, a former King County executive and vice chairman of the Puget Sound Leadership Council, who was one of the representatives at a news conference Wednesday at Shilshole Marina. “Everybody says, ‘My boat won’t hurt anything,’ but you multiply that by a thousand. …’’
Fecal coliform bacteria from marine-sanitation devices is 72 times greater that the fecal coliform bacteria considered acceptable in shellfish beds, and it’s 10 times higher than the standard allowed in recreational areas for humans, say DOE researchers.
The Puget Sound orcas are the most contaminated whales in the world, Sims added.
Twenty-six states already have no-discharge zones but this would be Washington’s first, Jankowiak said.
The petition is the first step in what could be a lengthy process before the regulations would go into effect, giving vessel owners time to make the retrofits. But getting the message out that dumping sewage is harmful and that there are alternatives is the first step, she said.
In 1992, there were only five discharge stations in the Puget Sound area available to vessels. Now there are 100 with 14 mobile units. “We’ve come a long way,’’ Jankowiak said.
The number of vessels using the discharge stations has increased, said Al Wolslegel, of the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission. In 2011, 4.6 million gallons of sewage were pumped, but by 2013 the amount had increased to 5.6 million.
Nancy Bartley: email@example.com or 206-464-8522