Under a new rule, Puget Sound would no longer be a toilet for the region’s vessel traffic.

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Puget Sound would no longer be a toilet for vessels dumping raw or partially treated sewage overboard under a regulation proposed by the state Department of Ecology.

The new rule would require any vessel with a permanent toilet aboard to store waste until it could be pumped out ashore, instead of dumping it overboard.

Vessel owners now may dump raw sewage in Puget Sound 3 miles from shore, and dump partially treated sewage overboard — even at the dock.

Learn more about the no-dischage zone rule, see a map where it would apply: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wq/nonpoint/CleanBoating/CleanBoatingImages/ProposedPSNDZMap.pdf

Source: Washington State Department of Ecology

The onboard treatment systems are not sufficient to protect Puget Sound, said Josh Baldi, Northwest Regional Director of the state Department of Ecology.

Sewage dumped at the surface of the water can be a heavy hit of bacterial pollution to shellfish harvest, swimmers and marine life. “It doesn’t take much to foul a (shellfish) bed, or get somebody sick,” Baldi said.

Tugs, commercial vessels and even some of NOAA Fisheries’ research and survey vessels will need to make changes to meet the new standards, Baldi said. There is a five-year grace period to do so.

Cruise ships hold treated sewage until they are out in Pacific waters, under a memorandum of agreement with Ecology.

Common elsewhere in the country, there aren’t any no-discharge areas in Washington waters, nor Oregon or Alaska.

“There are 90 of these in 26 states,” Baldi said. “It does shock many boaters who believe this is already the law and are good stewards many people are surprised to learn places like Texas are ahead of us in Puget Sound.”

In addition to the San Juan Islands, and portions of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the no-discharge zone would include all marine waters in and around Seattle, as well as the fresh waters of Lake Washington, Union Bay, Montlake Cut, Portage Bay, Lake Union, Fremont Cut and the Lake Washington Ship Canal.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Monday announced its finding that there are enough pump out stations in the region to make the rule reasonable. The EPA is accepting comments on its finding until Dec. 7. To comment on the EPA’s finding, go online here. To learn more about the no-discharge zone, go online here.

“Almost everyone I talk with is surprised this isn’t already prohibited,” said Chris Wilke, executive director of the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance. “If we are going to make progress on Puget Sound we need to stop treating it like a toilet. It is not a repository for our waste.”