Cape Cod Chronicle editorial: Pumping Out

Newspaper challenges boaters to upgrade their boats
It's official: Harwich has a no discharge zone in place prohibiting boaters from pumping sewage into local waters. That designation was formalized in a ceremony here on Wednesday. New England EPA Deputy Administrator Mindy Lubber and MCZM Director Peg Brady make the presentation to Selectman Peter Luddy and Natural Resources Officer Thomas Leach at Saquatucket Harbor. Photo by William F. Galvin. Click photo to read Harwich NDA plan

With the Federal Environmental Protection Agency’s designation this week of the harbors and waters of Nantucket Sound out to 400 feet as a no discharge zone along the Harwich coast, boaters now have an obligation to help the town clean those waters which most seriously impact shellfishing. While the town has had a voluntary no discharge provision in place for several years, Harwich now joins Chatham to have the first shoreline in the state extending over corporate boundaries to receive this designation. The town of Chatham, last year, received the EPA no discharge designation for the waters of Stage Harbor. Together boaters in these communities can make a difference in the fight to improve marine waters, keeping shellfish areas open and offering economic opportunities.

Part of preparation for such designations is putting in place the facilities allowing for easy access for boaters in need of emptying their holding tanks. In Chatham, the town has a mobile pumpout cart that can be moved from landing to landing removing waste from vessels while a permanent station is in place at the Old Mill Boat Yard. In Harwich the town has a number of facilities, including a station at the fuel dock at Saquatucket Harbor and facilities at the boat yards at Wychmere and Allen Harbors. The town has also been the recipient of grants funding two pumpout boats that can move from harbor the harbor and mooring field to mooring field providing these services.

In Harwich, valuable shellfish grounds in Wychmere and Allen harbors are usually closed during the summer months based on high fecal coliform counts. For years town officials have pointed a finger at effluent being pumped from boats as one of the contributing factors in such closures. In other harbors and estuaries within the town seasonal and permanent closures are not unusual. Saquatucket Harbor, the town’s major marina, is currently under permanent closure status, a directive of the state Division of Marine Fisheries, based on elevated bacteria counts. In Chatham, Stage Harbor seems to have survived closure designations, but the need to preserve a high quality marine environment remains paramount.

There are no doubt many contributing factors to the pollution that causes closure of shellfish grounds—failing septic systems and road runoff are high on the list—but dumping of raw sewage from holding tanks is certainly a major concern. There are some vessels moored in these waters that do not have holding tanks and the installation of such equipment should be a high priority and once they are in place boaters have an obligation to learn where these pumpout stations are located and how to use them. There is no longer an excuse for discharging effluent into these zones. The fines can be staggering, as much as $500, for a violation. In the name of a healthy marine environment pumpout facilities should be used as frequently as a visit to the gas dock.