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No-discharge plan for Casco Bay

Maine chooses home waters to 3,500 pleasure boats to begin no-discharge pilot program

Boaters traveling in Maine’s Casco Bay may soon be prohibited from discharging head waste overboard as state officials move toward establishing its first federal no-discharge zone.

Maine officials in December announced they plan to apply to the federal Environmental Protection Agency for the designation, in an effort to protect water quality. In a no-discharge area, boats are prohibited from discharging even treated waste in the water. It has long been illegal to dump untreated waste overboard. Boats equipped with flow-through sewage treatment devices, such as marine sanitation systems I and II, will have to lock the system’s Y-valves or retrofit their boats with portable toilets or holding tanks, which can be emptied at one of the 23 pumpout facilities around the bay.

State officials in 2000 set out to identify and prioritize waterways that should receive the federal designation. Of the 370 harbors in the state, Casco Bay was chosen as the first site in part because of its high boating traffic.

“We’re going to start with Casco Bay, which is the most boating intensive harbor,” says Pam Anderson, the state’s pumpout funds coordinator. “Casco Bay is going to be our pilot [program].”

Some 3,500 recreational boats call the harbor home port, and there are countless transients who ply these waters, according to Anderson. Maine’s biggest port, Portland, is located in Casco Bay. Anderson says if the program is successful in Casco Bay, she expects other bays will be designated no-discharge as well.

It can take several months for an application to be approved. In determining if an area qualifies, the EPA considers the number of boaters in the area, as well as the number of working pumpout facilities, according to Ann Rodney from the EPA’s New England office. She says she physically visits each proposed site.

A number of informational sessions also are held before an application is approved.

“I like to make sure the boating population knows about it,” says Rodney. “Education should be going on so they’ve had enough time to prepare their boats.”

Water quality in no-discharge zones has been shown to significantly improve over time. Block Island waters off the coast of Rhode Island were closed to shellfishing some years ago, but the area was reopened soon after it was declared a no-discharge zone.

Since 1975 the EPA has established 59 no-discharge zones in 23 states, including six areas in Massachusetts, one in Connecticut, all the inland waters in New Hampshire and the entire coastline of Rhode Island. Connecticut officials are considering extending its no-discharge zone, which currently runs from the Thames River to the Mystic area, to Guilford.

“No-discharge zones are becoming more frequent,” says Rodney. “Boaters are environmentally friendly. They want clean water in order to have a fun, enjoyable experience.”

Anderson says state officials have looked to other states with no-discharge zones, as well as a report by the federal General Accounting Office, to help develop its own guidelines.

“We’re trying to make the no-discharge as successful as possible,” Anderson says.

A GAO report issued in May 2004 found lack of oversight of pumpout stations. Funds are available through the Clean Vessel Act to build pumpout stations, but the GAO found there is no EPA and little state follow-up to make certain the stations don’t fall into disrepair. Anderson says the state of Maine has established a pumpout inspection program, which is not funded by CVA funds, in which staff check twice a year to ensure that systems are in working order.