Comments accepted now on no-discharge zone, which would be first in state, Northwest

OLYMPIA — Public comment is being accepted now on a proposed no-discharge zone that includes areas east of the New Dungeness Lighthouse.

If the rule is approved, it would be the first no-discharge zone in the state and in the Pacific Northwest, according to the state Department of Ecology.

Comments will be accepted through Nov. 30.

Ecology has proposed the rule to protect the Puget Sound from vessels dumping raw or treated sewage into Puget Sound to help protect shellfish beds, swimming beaches and vulnerable natural areas.

Currently, vessel owners can dump sewage 3 miles from shore through devices that provide partial or marginal treatment. Untreated sewage can be discharged more than 3 miles out.

It is expected to be adopted in February and come into effect in March, according to Ecology’s timeline.

The no-discharge zone would prohibit the discharge of sewage across 2,300 square miles of marine waters in Puget Sound.

This includes all marine waters east of New Dungeness Lighthouse and the Discovery Island Lighthouse to the Canadian border, and fresh waters of Lake Washington, Lake Union and connecting waters between and to Puget Sound.

The rule comes after five years of stakeholder engagement and public outreach, Ecology said.

Ecology gathered data on Puget Sound vessels, pump-out facilities and the conditions of Puget Sound, as well as conducted boater surveys and research on other states with no-discharge zones.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) evaluated and approved Ecology’s request earlier this year, determining that the Puget Sound meets the federal standards for a no-discharge zone.

EPA has established more than 90 such zones in 26 states.

The Puget Sound No Discharge Zone would apply to all vessels on the effective date of the rule except for tug boats, commercial fishing vessels, small commercial passenger vessels and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) research and survey vessels.

These would have a delayed implementation lasting five years from the effective date of the rule.

Cost estimates for retrofitting commercial vessels range from about $1,500 for smaller recreational boats to $161,000 for large holding tanks on tug vessels and more for small cruise ships, according to Ecology.

They still would be required to comply with existing state and federal discharge regulations in the interim.

It also would not apply to public vessels actively involved in emergency, safety, security or related contingency operations where it would not be possible to comply with the no discharge zone.

Ecology is hosting three public hearings in November. Two are webinars and one is in person.

• The first webinar is set for 2 p.m. Nov. 13.

To join, go to http://tinyurl.com/PDN-afternoonwebinar.

• The second webinar is scheduled for 6 p.m. Nov. 13.

To join, go to http://tinyurl.com/PDN-eveningwebinar.

• An in-person hearing is set for 11 a.m. Nov. 15 at South Seattle College’s Georgetown Campus, 6737 S. Corson Ave., Seattle.

Comments can be made at the hearings, online or by mail.

To comment by mail, write Amy Jankowiak, Department of Ecology, Water Quality Program, 3190 S.E. 160th Ave., Bellevue WA 98008-5452.

To comment online and for more information, see http://tinyurl.com/PDN-PugetsoundNDZ.