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EPA Moving Ahead With No-Discharge Zone For Puget Sound

Ted S. Warren, File
AP Photo
Todd Powell (right), of Federal Way, Wash., helps Pat Wolfrom, (left) put away the hose from a sewage pump-out station, as the state announced its petition to EPA this summer for a ban on all dumping of sewage in Puget Sound.

The Environmental Protection Agency has given a preliminary green light to ban all vessels from dumping sewage in Puget Sound. It’s the latest step in a long effort by the state and environmental groups.

Washington’s Department of Ecology has been working for several years to get a federal ban on sewage dumping for Puget Sound andissued a formal petition requesting it this summer. The EPA has established more than 90 of these so-called “no discharge” zones in 26 states, but this would be the first in the Northwest.

Currently, the law allows dumping of untreated waste three miles off shore. Partially treated waste can be dumped anywhere in Puget Sound.

But the state has now convinced the EPA that there’s enough infrastructure to allow for the ban and the EPA has opened a public comment period on that assessment.

"It's a preliminary okay," said EPA Region 10 spokeswoman Suzanne Skadowski.

Chris Wilke with Puget Soundkeeper Alliance was one of five environmental groups applauding that action on Monday. He says his organization has worked with the state Parks Department and the Department of Ecology to prepare, by getting more than a hundred pump-out stations in place.    

“There are also mobile services, which will come right up alongside a vessel and there are marinas that are installing pump-outs in some cases at every dock,” Wilke said.  “So we think the evidence is clear, we’ve crossed that threshold and it’s now time to declare a no discharge zone for Puget Sound.”

The state estimates only about two percent of commercial and recreational boats that have toilets on board would need to add holding tanks once the ban is in place.  But preventing even small amounts of sewage from being dumped into the sound could make a big difference. For example, the health department expects to open more than 700 acres of shellfish areas that are currently closed because of their proximity to boat moorages. 

The EPA is taking comments on the proposed ban over the next 30 days

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