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Less Dumping, More Pumping: Proposal to Ban Sewage in Puget Sound

The EPA's proposed "No-Discharge Zone" in Puget Sound, seen here in red, would stretch from the Canadian border south to waterways near Olympia. (Wash. Dept. of Ecology)
The EPA's proposed "No-Discharge Zone" in Puget Sound, seen here in red, would stretch from the Canadian border south to waterways near Olympia. (Wash. Dept. of Ecology)
December 7, 2016

SEATTLE – There could be less sewage in Puget Sound if a proposal is approved to ban boats from dumping their so-called "blackwater." Today is the final day the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking public comments on a proposal to create a "No Discharge Zone," stretching from Olympia to the Canadian border.

Jeff Parsons, the legislative policy director at the Puget Sound Partnership, said banning both treated and untreated sewage could open up shellfish beds in the Sound again.

"One of the things that we're concerned about in Puget Sound is fecal contamination of shellfish beds," he said. "We have about 36,000 acres of Puget Sound shellfish beds that are closed, due to contamination from bacteria, viruses and pathogens from sewage."

There are 90 no-discharge zones in 26 states, but none in the Northwest. Commercial vessel owners are concerned they'll have to make costly upgrades to retrofit their vessels with holding tanks for sewage. The Washington Department of Ecology has developed a plan to allow these vessels five years to comply with the new rule.

The EPA said there are enough facilities in Puget Sound to allow all the sewage to be safely pumped out of the vessels. Because of the Sound's inland geography and how its waterways are connected, Parsons said what affects one part of the Sound can affect other, faraway parts as well.

"One of the problems with Puget Sound is that it doesn't 'flush' the way some areas do," he explained. "So for example, out on the coast you have much greater flushing action, and you can discharge into the ocean without having adverse impacts on shellfish areas on the coast."

Another reason the Washington Department of Ecology proposed the rule to the EPA is to protect water quality where swimming is allowed in Puget Sound.

The western boundary for the zone would be the Strait of Juan de Fuca near Admiralty Inlet. It includes fresh waters, such as Lake Washington and Lake Union near Seattle, as well.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA