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Source: New York Times

Boats Banned From Dumping Sewage in Long Island Sound


Posted: September 7, 2011
Originally Published: September 6, 2011

Boats will be prohibited from dumping sewage in New York State waters in Long Island Sound under a ban announced on Tuesday by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The new ban, covering 760 square miles, makes the entire Sound a no-discharge zone; Connecticut secured the same designation for its portion of the Sound in 2007.

The ban, which goes into effect on Thursday, will require an estimated 12,200 recreational and small commercial vessels to dispose of their sewage, mainly human waste, treated or not, at government-run and privately operated pump-out stations along the coast.

Storm-water runoff and releases from wastewater-treatment plants remain a far larger source of pollution in Long Island Sound than waste from boats, federal officials noted. Still, treated sewage from the boats contains chemicals like formaldehyde and chlorine that harm marine life and pose health risks to swimmers, they said.

“A lot of the sewage is discharged close to where people swim,” the E.P.A.’s regional administrator, Judith A. Enck, said, adding that the ban was “long overdue.”

Government officials and environmentalists described the move as a meaningful step to improve water quality in the Sound, a 110-mile-long estuary between densely populated Long Island and Connecticut. New York officials had already restricted discharges in areas with high boat traffic, encompassing about 50 square miles, and had been awaiting the creation of more pump-out stations before petitioning for the federal action.

“It’s an important part of an overall strategy,” said Peter A. Scully, regional director for Long Island for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

The ban coincides with plans for more coordinated actions by Connecticut and New York to reduce nitrogen pollution in the Sound — mostly from sewage treatment plants and agricultural runoff — which stimulates the growth of bacteria and algae and robs the water of oxygen.

Considerable progress has been made since a conservation and management plan for the Sound was developed in 1994, Mr. Scully said, with nitrogen levels down by more than 40 percent. Dolphins returned to Long Island Sound a few years ago.

The new ban, federal officials said, extends to open waters, harbors, bays and navigable tributaries of the Sound and a portion of the East River — the area between the Hell Gate Bridge connecting Queens to Randalls and Wards Islands in Manhattan in the west and the northern bounds of Block Island Sound in the east.

Chris Squeri, executive director of the New York Marine Trades Association, which represents marine businesses, said convenient access to pump-out stations had been a crucial issue for boaters, who face $250 fines for violations. New York State says there are 68 such stations, and the E.P.A. deemed that number adequate before approving the ban.

“If they say they have ample facilities in the area, I assume they do,” Mr. Squeri said. “We swim and fish in these waters, so we want to keep the water quality good.”

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the environmental group Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said the boat restrictions would help maintain momentum for efforts to upgrade antiquated sewage treatment plants and control storm-water runoff.

The ban “means cleaner beaches, more edible seafood and a healthier economy by keeping this bacteria out of the water,” she said.