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New rule prohibits vessels from discharging sewage into Puget Sound

Tim Durkan photo

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Puget Sound soon will be off limits to sewage from ships, boats or other vessels, under a new rule that takes effect on May 10.

Maia Bellon, director of the state Department of Ecology, established the new no-discharge zone following a five-year comment period and approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"This is a historic day for the protection and restoration of Puget Sound," Bellon said.

The new rule bans the discharge of any type of sewage, treated or untreated, within Puget Sound. Vessels looking to empty their loads will need to use a pump-out station or wait until they are out of the no-discharge zone.

"Puget Sound is an icon of the Pacific Northwest. Its cultural and economic importance cannot be overstated. It’s the lifeblood of our renowned salmon, shellfish and orcas. Stopping the release of vessel sewage into our waters is absolutely the right thing to do," Bellon said.

In establishing its first no-discharge zone, Washington joins 26 other states and more than 90 other no-discharge zones in the nation.

The no-discharge zone will include all marine waters of Washington state east of a line between the New Dungeness and Discovery Island lighthouses, north to the Canadian border and as far inland as the fresh waters of Lake Washington, and all the water bodies that connect Lake Washington to Puget Sound.

Heather Bartlett, water quality program manager at the Department of Ecology, said the new rule "connects a missing piece in our strategy to clean up and restore the Sound."

"Our shellfish beds, swimming beaches and protected areas are especially vulnerable to bacteria and viruses in vessel sewage," she said. "This will prevent pollution from impacting these areas and protect human health and overall water quality."

The state Department of Health expects to upgrade or open approximately 1,000 acres of commercial shellfish beds for harvesting near marinas after the establishment of the no-discharge zone.

During the five-year study period, a draft proposal drew more than 65,000 favorable comments and about 525 comments expressing opposition or concern.

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For more information about the Puget Sound no discharge zone, visit pumpoutwashington.org.

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