By next year’s fall boat shows, Annapolis Harbor and Anne Arundel County’s Bay tributaries will be a little cleaner. That’s because boats in those waters will no longer be allowed to discharge any sewage.
Discharging treated sewage is allowed in much of the Chesapeake and the Atlantic even within three miles of the coast. Only Herring Bay and the northern coastal bays near Ocean City are no-discharge zones, with no flushing allowed since 2002.
The situation is not quite so bad as it sounds. Discharge of untreated sewage was forbidden by the 1972 Clean Water Act. Some boats have on-board treatment systems that meet standards for treatment of bacteria, but they do not necessarily eliminate nitrogen, other nutrients and toxic chemicals.
Other boats with no heads or holding tanks must have humans with good holding capacity.
The proposed no-discharge zone is estimated to result in an annual reduction of about a quarter of a ton of nitrogen.
Discharge would still be allowed in the open Bay and would still be outside of the designated no-discharge zone, but only for sewage treated onboard.
Our waterways are likely to get those protections because Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman and Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley this month signed the application for the Environmental Protection Agency to designate a countywide no discharge zone.
The signed application now goes to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Environment, then to the EPA for their review and approval. This might take another year, but the strong public support behind the application makes the outlook promising.
The Severn River Association has been organizing support that, according to the association’s David Barker “began at the grass roots and watershed level.”
Another practical sewage solution needs to be in place. “For the designation to be successful,” said Annapolis harbormaster Beth Bellis, “getting a pump-out needs to be convenient and inexpensive.”
More than 50 pump stations operate in and around Annapolis and in all marinas earning DNR’s Clean Marina certification. The Annapolis Harbormaster and the West/Rhode Riverkeeper also operate pump-out boats.