We can all benefit from change | Editorial

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 ag 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: sewage from boats and ships.

Under current federal regulations, treated sewage may be discharged from a ship or boat anywhere in Puget Sound, and untreated sewage 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. The proposed zone extends from Puget Sound, north to the 49th parallel, including the San Juan Islands, and west to New Dungeness Lighthouse.

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.

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.

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 amy.jankowiak@ecy.wa.gov. Or write Department of Ecology, Northwest Regional Office, Attn: Amy Jankowiak, 3190 160th Ave. SE, Bellevue, WA 98008.

– The above was written by Richard Walker, editor of the North Kitsap Herald, a sister paper to the Islands’ Sounder. Walker was editor of the Journal of the San Juans from 1999 to 2010.