Water samples at more than 80 public beaches in the Puget Sound region, including Kitsap County, show fecal coliform bacteria levels that exceed levels considered to be safe. Harmful bacteria pollute fish, shellfish, and other food harvested from our waters. They make our beaches inaccessible for recreational use.
Federal, tribal, state and local governments are working to identify and correct pollution sources that harm our waters and marine life. Creosoted pilings are being removed. Changes in agricultural practices are keeping waste from streams. Rain gardens, buffers and permeable road surfaces are stemming the tide of tainted storm water going into the sea. Property owners are more closely monitoring their septic systems to prevent leaching into public waters.
There is another pollution source – a big one – that hasn’t been addressed until now: Wastewater from boats and ships.
Under current federal regulations, treated wastewater may be discharged from a ship or boat anywhere in Puget Sound, and untreated wastewater may be discharged as long as the boat is more than three miles from shore. (Marine sanitation devices that grind up waste and add disinfectant before discharging into marine waters are considered treatment, but these systems do not meet state standards for protecting water quality and public health, according to the Department of Ecology).
Ecology, the Department of Health and the Puget Sound Partnership have drafted a proposal to make Puget Sound a No Discharge Zone and are submitting it as a draft petition to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
If established, no boat — whether a cruise ship, freighter or pleasure craft — could discharge anywhere within the designated zone. All boats and ships would have to store their sewage until they could safely dispose of it at an onshore or mobile pumpout facility, or hold it until it can be discharged in the open ocean beyond three miles from shore.
The proposed zone extends from Puget Sound, including Lake Union and Lake Washington, north to the 49th parallel, including the San Juan Islands, and west to New Dungeness Lighthouse.
More than 80 No Discharge Zones have been established in 26 states; there are currently no NDZs in Washington state.
The No Discharge Zone proposal is part of the state Puget Sound Partnership’s Action Agenda to restore and protect the health of our inland marine waters. The No Discharge Zone would require a change in practices by those on the water, but it’s a change from which we, and future generations, will benefit.
“When we visit a beach, go fishing or dig for clams, we expect the water to be clean,” Puget Sound Partnership deputy director Marc Daily said in a press release. “We must eliminate sources of untreated human waste being dumped into our waterways to ensure that. As called out in the Puget Sound Action Agenda, a No Discharge Zone is an important tool to achieving this.”
To see a map of the No Discharge Zone, and review and comment on the proposal, go to www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wq/nonpoint/CleanBoating/nodischargezone.html. Comment deadline is April 21.
Comments may also be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org., or write Department of Ecology, Northwest Regional Office, Attn: Amy Jankowiak, 3190 160th Ave. SE, Bellevue, WA 98008.
Richard Walker is the editor of the North Kitsap Herald in Poulsbo.