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Why it matters

The features that make Puget Sound such a stunning scenic, environmental, and economic resource also make it uniquely sensitive to pollution. Its long, narrow shape limits the circulation of water, especially in the bays and narrow inlets. Sewage from vessels can potentially affect water quality and pose a risk to public health.

There are 153,000 registered recreational vessels and 3,600 commercial vessels in the Puget Sound area. Because vessels move throughout Puget Sound, they can especially affect sensitive resources in Puget Sound such as shellfish growing areas, marine protected areas, aquatic reserves and public beaches. Such areas can be impacted by bacteria and dissolved oxygen in sewage.

Protecting shellfish resources helps safeguard public health and our economy

People can get sick from eating shellfish polluted with bacteria from boat waste discharges. When bacterial pollution makes shellfish harvest restrictions necessary, our recreational and commercial shellfish industries suffer. Even small amounts of sewage discharges over or near shellfish beds can cause enough pollution to require harvest closures. Studies and modeling have shown that pollutants from vessel discharges are typically much higher than state water quality standards. Pollutants can quickly reach sensitive resources and pose a risk to water quality and public health.

Washington needs to address vessel sewage

An NDZ connects a missing piece in the state’s Puget Sound Action Agenda and joins other larger investments in sewage treatment: on-site septic systems, stormwater management and agricultural runoff control. The Puget Sound Partnership has included the NDZ as a key action for the Shellfish Restoration initiative in the Action Agenda.

Boaters can help us make a difference for Puget Sound

Washington state boaters practice good stewardship of our waters. The vast majority of vessels already have holding tanks for use at pumpout facilities or to hold their sewage (blackwater) until they reach the ocean for discharge.

There are currently:

  • More than 173 stationary pumpout units.
  • In 102 locations.
  • 25 pumpout boats available for recreational vessels.
  • More than five commercial marine work companies provide commercial vessel pumpouts with barges and trucks. 
  • 16 stationary commercial pumpouts
    • 11 of these are dedicated to state ferries or the Navy.
    • Two are dedicated for the Victoria Clipper and McNeil Island.
    • One is dedicated for Alaska Ferries.
  • More than 140 pumper truck companies with the potential to pump commercial vessel sewage. 

How we got here

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined that a no discharge zone can be established for Puget Sound. We went through a five year stakeholder process. Read the petition to EPA and Ecology's supplemental letter. EPA made an affirmative determination allowing us to move forward with a No Discharge Zone rule. The rulemaking process was completed with adoption of the rule in April and effective May 10, 2018.

What we're doing

We are first focused on an educational approach. The public has a good track record of making informed choices to change practices when they understand the problem and the actions they need to take. Eliminating discharges can help relieve pollution pressure on Puget Sound as efforts to curtail other pollution sources continue.

How would an NDZ affect vessel owners?

Most vessels will require no changes at all, but some will.

Recreational vessels

There are approximately 153,000 registered recreational vessels in the Puget Sound area. Ninety-five per cent have holding tanks or no toilets, and do not discharge. Therefore, they can comply with the NDZ with no changes. There are about 2,000 recreational vessels that have a federally-approved treatment system called a Type I or Type II Marine Sanitation Device (MSD).

These need conversion to holding tanks (Type III MSD). Recreational boat holding tanks typically cost about $1,500 per retrofit or more including installation costs. A typical operating fee to pump out a recreational boat tank is $0-$25. There are currently more than 173 pumpout units in 102 locations, and 25 pumpout boats available for recreational vessels. More pumpouts continue to be added to popular boating locations.

Pumpout facilities for recreational vessels can be found at Pumpout Washington or Washington State Parks Boating page

Commercial vessels

In Puget Sound, there are approximately 3,600 commercial vessels. These include bulk and auto carriers, container ships, cruise ships, tugs, refrigerated carriers, roll-on roll-offs, tankers, excursion vessels, government vessels, ferries, workboats and commercial fishing vessels. Approximately 94 per cent of the commercial vessels have holding tanks or no toilets/no discharge. That leaves about 215 commercial vessels based in Puget Sound with Type I or Type II treatment systems which would need to add holding capacity.

These include 100 tugs, 100 fishing (estimated out of 350), three NOAA research ships, and six to eight small passenger cruise ships. Commercial vessels that pump out their sewage use commercial marine work companies, mobile pumpouts, pumper trucks or stationary pumpouts (Bellingham) or discharge out at sea. State ferries, the Navy and certain other vessels use dedicated stationary pumpouts.  

Retrofit costs are included in the rulemaing Final Regulatory Analysis.

We have provided this list of potential commercial vessel sewage pumpout options as a resource for commercial vessel operators.