Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
See the latest RNC updates from NPR

'Pump, Don't Dump': Campaign Urges Boaters To Avoid Sewage Spills With Free Kit

A rubber adapter may be the answer to preventing illegal dumping in local waterways, according to a new campaign by Washington Sea Grant.

The pathogens in untreated wastewater can cause everything from minor skin rashes to serious gastrointestinal illnesses like Giardia and norovirus. But it happens, and often by accident. Many boaters know better, but lack proper equipment or information on how to pump out safely. 

Aaron Barnett is a boating outreach specialist for Washington Sea Grant. For the past few years, his job has included kayaking around shallow waters in the state, handing out small plastic adapters.

“And what it is is the alternative to this rubber tip,” Barnett said, holding up the end of a black rubber hose. He says the new adapter, which is slightly different in design and screws in securely, can prevent lots of accidental sewage spills.

Barnett says the older, soft rubber tips that are widespread in Washington often come loose under pressure, creating a messy scene.

“Because pump out equipment is a lot better than it used to be — faster, more powerful, it’ll knock the nozzle out, and they’ll get the famous, dreaded brown shower,” he said.   

To prevent a shower of raw sewage, Barnett has boxes full of bright-orange waterproof kits with the adapter and a pair of rubber gloves inside. He gives them away for free, along with information on more than 150 locations where boaters can safely pump out the waste that comes from their toilets and showers.

The Pumpout Washington program is tracked by the Puget Sound Partnership, which is working to restore the health of local waterways and protect industries that depend on it, such as shellfish farms. Money for the program comes from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and the federal Clean Vessel Act.

Washington Sea Grant estimates that there are about 20,000 small craft in the state that could use the adapters, and the group thinks it has reached about a quarter of them so far.

There’s also a new mobile marine pump out service working in Lake Washington and Portage Bay where infrastructure is still lacking.

Boaters who register can get a visit from a boat that hooks up and safely removes black wastewater, free of charge. 

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to