2011-12 "Untreated Raw Sewage Continues to Plague Bay Area Marinas; In May, Bay Crossings reported on the disturbing issue of boat owners dumping untreated sewage directly into the Bay instead of using the pump-out stations provided by most marinas or contracting a mobile service to provide dockside pump-outs" BY JOEL WILLIAMS
In May, Bay Crossings reported on the disturbing issue of boat owners dumping untreated sewage directly into the Bay instead of using the pump-out stations provided by most marinas or contracting a mobile service to provide dockside pump-outs. The most egregious offenders are those who live on their boats (liveaboards) and use the convenience of their onboard latrines instead of making the trip to the onshore facilities provided by the marinas.
Baykeeper estimated that between 10 and 20 percent of the roughly 100,000 recreational boats on the Bay are used as primary residences. Marinas are required to limit the number of berths used for residence, according to permits issued by the Bay Conservation and Development Commissions (BCDC) under the San Francisco Bay Plan. Generally, each marina is limited to 10 percent liveaboards, but specific permits vary slightly.
Marinas and their harbormasters, however, have a financial incentive to bend the rules and have been known to look the other way regarding the prevalence of liveaboards as well as their sometimes flagrant disregard for the health of the Bay and their neighbors. And some marinas, like Richmond’s Brickyard Cove, don’t even offer pump-out stations, making it even more difficult for boaters to follow the law.
Baykeeper executive director Deb Self says her nonprofit is filling in the gaps by building a legal argument to compel government agencies to act. “Over the last 20 years, Baykeeper has played the role of identifying gaps in enforcement of clean water laws. Either the responsible agencies are going to step up or Baykeeper will step in.”
However, until there is visible, proactive enforcement, the only thing stopping boaters from dumping raw sewage in their marinas is their conscience—and perhaps peer pressure. And to make matters even worse, according to Dan Augustine, owner of BayGreen, a local mobile pump-out firm, a surprising number of the pump-out stations located in Bay Area marinas either don’t work or require serious maintenance.
The raw sewage being discharged carries disease-causing pathogens, infectious bacteria and viruses that cause exposed swimmers to suffer from sore throats, diarrhea as well as sinus and skin infections. Because the shallow waters of marinas receive little tidal flushing, the problem can be intensified and all of this is occurring right along our beautiful shoreline that is frequently visited by tourists and locals alike. These same marinas will also be in the spotlight during the upcoming America’s Cup events over the next two years.
While there is still much to be done to first address and eventually solve this problem, there are some bright spots on the horizon. The San Francisco Estuary Partnership, a coalition of government agencies and nonprofits established to improve Bay health, in partnership with BayGreen, has recently established a program to educate boaters regarding the environmental impact of illegal dumping while offering them free dockside pump outs.
Also, earlier this year the Berkeley Marina became the first Bay Area marina to institute a comprehensive pump-out program that offers each tenant a free monthly dockside pump-out. And best of all, Emery Cove in Emeryville is providing a positive example for all marinas to follow by actively monitoring and enforcing all local, state and federal laws and promoting mobile pump-out services.
However, these good examples represent only a fraction of the Bay Area’s roughly 40 marinas and there is plenty of work that remains to be done. Most harbormasters still choose to look the other way when it comes to the amount of liveaboards in their marinas and the laws regarding illegal dumping of raw sewage tanks.
Bay Crossings, along with the help of our friends at Baykeeper, is dedicated to continue reporting on this issue until this unmentionable plight in our Bay is eradicated. We also realize that the problem is not limited to just the liveaboards, and many liveaboards actually do follow the laws regarding raw sewage disposal. But as long as the local harbormasters refuse to enforce the laws and allow any of their tenants to continue to pollute the waters of our Bay, we will continue to shine a light on this ongoing problem.