The Department of Ecology today formally requested the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to protect Puget Sound by making it a no-discharge zone for vessel sewage. Cleaner shellfish areas could be a big benefit.

This would prohibit all commercial and recreational vessels from releasing any sewage into the waterway. If granted, this would be the first such no-discharge zone in the state, though more than 90 such zones have been created by EPA in 26 other states.

Federal law currently allows vessels to discharge sewage through devices that have limited treatment capabilities within three miles of shore and discharge of untreated sewage is allowed, if they are beyond three miles of shore. 

Today, most of Puget Sound’s 156,600 recreational and commercial vessels with on-board toilets have sewage holding tanks and use pump-out stations, or wait to discharge when more than three miles from shore. Roughly 2 percent of vessels — about 215 commercial and 2,000 recreational – with limited treatment systems would need to add holding tanks.

“Once a no-discharge zone is in effect, we expect to open more than 700 acres of shellfish areas near moorages for commercial and recreational harvesting,” said John Wiesman, secretary of the state Department of Health, which operates the program that ensures Washington’s shellfish are safe to eat.