Connecticut adds its coastal waters to growing list of no-discharge zones

Only two states besides Connecticut — Rhode Island and New Hampshire, both of them also in New England — have designated all their coastal waters as no-discharge zones. Massachusetts, which has taken a more gradual approach, may have all its waters as no-discharge zones within five years. (Ginny Howe Illustration/Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

In July, Connecticut became the third state in the nation to designate all of its coastal waters as no-discharge areas. An NDA designation makes the dumping of all sewage, treated or not, illegal in these zones.

Only two other states have designated all their coastal waters as no-discharge zones. Both of them, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, are in New England.
To date, four other states — California, Florida, Maryland and New Jersey — have implemented NDAs in their coastal waters, but no other region has been as active in coastal NDA implementation as New England. In a 2005 report, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) characterized New England as “a national leader in the (no-discharge area) program.”

The Clean Water Act authorizes each state to establish NDAs independently, though the EPA must give final approval based on whether there are enough sewage pump-out facilities to serve the area’s marine traffic. Since 1992, nearly 40 percent of New
England coastal waters have become no-discharge areas.

These regulations have required changes in the operations of vessels as well as changes in the behavior of the people who crew them. Vessels transiting a no-discharge area must either completely disable their Types I or II marine sanitation devices (MSDs) or install a Type III MSD. With a Type III MSD, boaters can hold on to their sewage until it can be disposed of at a pump-out facility.

These changes have drawn mixed responses from the commercial sector. Chris Coakley, vice president of the American Waterways Organization’s Atlantic region (AWO), expresses concern that some of these no-discharge areas do not have the facilities in place to meet the pump-out needs of larger vessels.

“AWO shares (the EPA’s) objectives of restoring and protecting natural resources,” Coakley explains, “The trick is that we need to maintain access to the waterways here too.”

Coakley also noted that vessel operators are not the only group impacted by these regulations. Most vessel operators in New England have already made the necessary technological adjustments to comply with the regulations, he said, but the cost of these upgrades has inevitably been passed on to consumers.

Ann Rodney, NDA coordinator at the EPA’s Region I (New England) offices, acknowledged these concerns. She maintained that the EPA has worked diligently to include community groups and commercial operators in the discussions leading to petitions for NDA designations. Rodney pointed to Massachusetts to demonstrate this cooperative effort.

“Massachusetts has taken a more gradual, grass-roots approach, choosing to implement NDAs embayment by embayment,” she said.

This “grass-roots” approach appears to have forged stronger partnerships with commercial vessel operators in some no-discharge areas, such as Plymouth.

Last summer, Plymouth, Kingston and Duxbury, communities that together cover 65 miles of coastline, declared their waters no-discharge areas. Don Gourley, of the Plymouth Harbormasters, remembers bracing for opposition, particularly from the commercial sector, when the plan was initiated in 2004.

“We anticipated opposition,” he recalled, “but there really wasn’t any, including from the commercial fishermen.”

Plymouth ferry operator Stan Tavares was also impressed by the way in which the harbor committee strove to include the commercial sector in each step.

“(The Harbormasters) did their best to accommodate everyone,” Tavares said. His company, Captain John Boats, anticipated the regulations, he said, by upgrading many of their own holding tanks before the no-discharge area was officially declared.

Nevertheless, this grass-roots approach concerns other commercial operators, said Coakley of the AWO. While locally based initiatives seem to have stimulated commercial partnership in some communities, Coakley said he is “worried that these individual state regulations will inhibit the smooth flow of commerce from one state to the next.”

In New England, however, this “piecemeal” pattern may soon be at an end. At this pace, Todd Callahan, of Massachusetts’ Coastal Zone Management Offices, said that 100 percent of Massachusetts waters could be no-discharge areas in as few as five years, citing proposals for Provincetown, Salem Sound and Boston.

While the AWO and other commercial organizations will be watching these developments closely, Coakley himself expressed optimism about strengthening relationships with the EPA. Coakley notes that recently both AWO and EPA administrators have made more concerted efforts to connect on these and other areas of environmental concern, such as ballast water and air emissions.

“This has been a very positive sign, from my standpoint,” he said.
Callahan also spoke optimistically about advancing partnerships with commercial organizations. “Our end goal is that we don’t want sewage in the water,” said Callahan. “And the best way to do that is to ask each group involved what they need.”

In this, Callahan hopes that Massachusetts’ example will continue to inspire interest in and cooperation with no-discharge areas in New England as well as nationally. In California, even though no-discharge areas now represent only a small percentage of the state’s waters, the California Water Resources Control Board submitted a request in April 2006 to designate its entire coastline as an NDA.  While the EPA deemed the request incomplete, advocates hope that the state will follow New England’s lead.

“The message we really want to send out,” said Callahan, “is that this is really the right thing to do, and so let’s work together on this.”

By Professional Mariner Staff