Clean Vessel Program keeps millions of gallons of sewage out of waterways

Marina owners, boaters join State Parks in effort

Nobody likes to think about sewage in their swimming lakes, fishing coves, dive spots and shellfish beds. Aside from the gross-out factor, untreated sewage poses serious health and environmental risks.

Washington State Parks manages the federal Clean Vessel Act grant, a competitive funding source from a portion of taxes on the sales of boats, fishing equipment and small engine fuel. The act aims to reduce sewage dumping from recreational vessels into Washington’s waters.

State Parks’ Clean Vessel Program distributes the federal funds to marinas, which, in turn, provide free or reduced-charge marine pump-out services to boaters. The agency also contracts with Washington Sea Grant to do outreach and education, including having a presence at boat shows, in magazines, at workshops and on YouTube.

The results of Washington’s Clean Vessel program have been effective. In 2016, the stations kept more than 10 million gallons of raw sewage out of our waterways—an increase of nearly 7 million gallons over six years.

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The Clean Vessel Program boasts 145 stationary and portable stations, compared with 85 stations in 2010. Many of the new stations service coastal areas or bodies of water with sensitive eco-systems or heavy recreational use, and plans are in place to add a free pumpout service in the San Juan Islands and stationary pumpouts in South Puget Sound. Clean Vessel Program Manager Alan Wolslegel attributes this success to the boating community and to marina owners and operators, who have embraced the program. Washington law says no sewage can be dumped from type-3 marine sanitation devices within 3 miles of the coast.

“Washington boaters and marina operators are aware and ecologically conscious,” Wolslegel said. “They are willing to pump.”

“The old pumps broke down a lot,” Wolslegel added. The new pumps are designed to be more reliable. Free deck-fitting kits, which the agency and Sea Grant give away at boating events, offer boaters more confidence about pumping without spills.

In addition to the newer pumps, the program has helped fund a free pumpout service in marinas on Lake Washington, Portage Bay and the Duwamish River. The program has also enabled 12 pumpout boats at specific marinas to visit recreational vessels in their slips, where marina or pumpout service employees perform the duty. Most are located in western Washington but one is located at Ice Harbor Marina on the Snake River.

Wolslegel is proud of the program’s achievements. “The gallons of waste being collected and properly disposed of means those gallons are not going into the waterways,” he said.

But he stresses that a collective effort is making it possible. “Marina owners and operators deserve a lot of the credit for this success; they are the ones who made the facilities available, and boaters are the ones using the facilities. It has all been very positive,” said Wolslegel.