No Discharge Zone
What is a No Discharge Zone or NDZ?
A No Discharge Zone (NDZ) is a designated body of water where the discharge of sewage (blackwater/toilet waste) from boats, whether treated or not, is prohibited. Under existing federal regulations, treated sewage may be discharged anywhere in Puget Sound, and untreated sewage may be discharged as long as the boat is more than three miles from shore. If a NDZ is established no boat, whether a freighter, a cruise ship, or a sailboat, could discharge anywhere within the designated NDZ. All boats and vessels 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 3 miles from shore. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Vessel Sewage website has more information on NDZs. More than 80 NDZs have been established in 26 states, while there are currently no NDZs in Washington State. A full listing of these NDZs is provided on EPA’s NDZ website.
What is the Status of the NDZ?
Over the last two years the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) has been evaluating the appropriateness and feasibility of establishing a NDZ in all or parts of the Puget Sound to protect water quality and public health. With input from stakeholders, Ecology decided to move forward with sending a draft petition for a NDZ to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and out for public comment by the end of 2013. Ecology wants to send a draft petition to EPA instead of going straight to a final petition so that we can make sure that we have all of the information that EPA requires (a check-in) and at the same time have a broader opportunity for public input as well as provide boaters with additional lead time to prepare for compliance should EPA grant Ecology’s final petition. This will also allow for some more time to for infrastructure improvements to continue to develop.
The proposed NDZ boundaries will include all inland marine waters of Puget Sound, Lake Washington, and all the water bodies that connect Lake Washington to Puget Sound. The NDZ will apply to all recreational and commercial vessels. The NDZ boundary would include the marine waters east of the line, between New Dungeness lighthouse and Discovery Island lighthouse east of Port Angeles, and Victoria to include the San Juan Islands in the north and South Puget Sound and the Hood Canal (see map).
Why are we considering a NDZ in Puget Sound?
Maps of Resources Impaired due to Bacteria
Puget Sound is a unique and sensitive water body with poor flushing that is prone to water quality impairments, such as fecal coliform listings and low dissolved oxygen which affect both the vast shellfish resources and aquatic life. Vessel sewage is one of a number of pollutant sources to Puget Sound which Ecology is addressing. Discharges from currently used marine sanitation devices (MSDs) typically do not meet water quality standards and public health protection. With a large number of recreational boats and commercial vessels traveling the Puget Sound and going through sensitive water bodies and shellfish beds, limiting pollution is necessary. This is a proactive approach to limiting preventable pollution sources. The report Puget Sound Condition, Vessel Sewage Discharge, and the Costs and Benefits of Establishing a NDZ details the Puget Sound conditions, as well as the cost and benefits of establishing a NDZ in Puget Sound.
Why can’t we rely on Marine Sanitation Devices to treat boat waste?
The performance of most commonly used marine sanitation devices (MSDs) is inadequate for treating sewage or for ensuring the protection of Puget Sound. A recent EPA study documented that fecal bacteria levels in discharge from approved MSDs can be several thousand times higher than Coast Guard standards for MSDs. The MSDs typically only grind up and disinfect the waste, and lack the ability to effectively treat organics, solids, toxics and nutrients. Establishment of an NDZ will ensure that waste discharges from vessels will not continue to contribute to the degradation of Puget Sound.
What steps are needed to get a NDZ established in all or some of Puget Sound?
A state can petition EPA for NDZ status under the Clean Water Act under three approaches: 1) the water body requires greater protection and has adequate pumpout facilities; 2) protection and enhancement of a water body requires establishment of a NDZ – do not have to show pumpout capacity; or 3) there is a drinking water intake. In order to assure feasibility of a NDZ, Ecology is verifying that adequate pumpout facilities exist under the first approach (Clean Water Act Section 312 section (f)(3)).
Ecology conducted a detailed two-year evaluation process which included gathering data on Puget Sound vessels, pumpout facilities, the conditions of Puget Sound, MSD performance, boater surveys, research on other states with NDZs, an evaluation of implementation, and outreach to stakeholders.
When Ecology submits a final petition to EPA, EPA reviews it and if it is accepted, it will be published in the Federal Register for formal comment prior to a final determination by EPA. Once a NDZ has been established by EPA it is immediately effective.
The first step for establishing a NDZ is to gather information on boater use, the availability of pumpout facilities, and the significance of the resource being protected. This information must meet the 7 requirements to petition EPA for a NDZ, as summarized in the report No Discharge Zone Petition Requirements and Petition Research and detailed in the Federal Register: Clean Water Act Section 312 section (f)(3). Much of this research has already been done and is summarized in the following reports:
Puget Sound Condition, Vessel Sewage Discharge, and the Costs and Benefits of Establishing a NDZ
Puget Sound Vessel Population and Pumpout Facilities
Recreational Boater Survey Results
Commercial Vessel Sewage Management in Puget Sound
Implementation of a No Discharge Zone in Puget Sound
As part of the NDZ evaluation process, two advisory group meetings were held in the summer of 2013 with a variety of stakeholders. The meeting notes summarize the two meetings.
How does this affect boaters?
Recreational boaters with existing holding tanks will need to continue to hold their sewage (blackwater) while in any granted NDZ area and either pump out their sewage for treatment at an on-land wastewater treatment plant or discharge outside of the NDZ and beyond 3 miles. Recreational boaters with Type I or Type II MSDs will need to add a holding tank and not discharge any treated or untreated sewage in a NDZ.
Commercial vessels will also have to hold their sewage, treated or untreated, while in a NDZ and either pump out their sewage for treatment at an on-land wastewater treatment plant or discharge outside of the NDZ and beyond 3 miles or outside of the NDZ with a certified Type II MSD.
What about graywater?
The NDZ does not affect graywater discharges. Ecology’s Clean Green Boating website has information on best management practices and requirements for graywater, as well as other potential discharges such as fueling, bilge care, and hull cleaning.
What are the next steps?
Where can I find out about available pumpout facilities?
We want your input on this project.
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