2012-04 "Clean Marinas Program Helps Ensure Environmentally Responsible Boating" by Bill Picture from "Bay Crossings" newspaper
Pollution in the Bay is a top concern of many Bay Area residents, but the search for a culprit is sometimes, well, as murky as the Bay’s waters.
Is it storm runoff, which carries a veritable laundry list of land-borne contaminants, some of them highly toxic, from a variety of sources into the Bay via storm drains and Bay-feeding watercourses? Is it the many, many large freight vessels passing through the Golden Gate each day? Is it the pleasure craft that dart past us as we take in a sweeping view of the Bay from our favorite vantage point? Is it the untreated sewage discharge from thousands of liveaboards who call Bay Area marinas home?
It’s all of those, said Emery Cove Yacht Harbor’s harbormaster Diane Isley. "The liveaboards have been taking the heat lately, but it’s not fair to point the finger just at them," she said. "As a rule, I’d say the liveaboards are the most conscientious."
Still, Isley said it only take a few irresponsible marina tenants dumping untreated sewage directly into the water to spoil it for the rest of the floating bunch. Bay pollution watchdog Baykeeper estimates there are enough bad apples living on the Bay to warrant serious concern. But without hard numbers, the claim falls largely on deaf ears, at least within the liveaboard community, amongst whose members it has aroused ire lately.
Isley wishes there were data available, so that stakeholders in a clean Bay could know once and for all who the worst culprits are, and then decide on an effective course of action. The problem is, the agencies in charge of keeping the Bay and other waterways free of pollution are underfunded as it is, and it seems unlikely that a study of specific point sources is imminent.
Thus, claims being volleyed back and forth between regulators and concerned Bay-lovers on one side, and harbormasters and boat owners on the other side, rely heavily on anectodal evidence. Some of the debates make even Isley, who’s been a harbormaster for 25 years and said she’s seen just about everything, wince.
"I’ve heard some real horror stories, and some of them are probably true," she said. "But I’d still say that the liveaboards are only a part of a problem."
Because the in-charge agencies are short on the wherewithal to regulate, the responsibility for enforcement has fallen largely on harbormasters, many of whom are also stretched too thin to play water-quality police.
"The boat owners should really be taking responsibility for themselves, but self-policing doesn’t always work," Isley said. "In order for that to really work, the marina owners, the harbormasters and the boat owners really need to work together as a solid, effectively self-regulating group."
While they wait for the boat-owning masses to get onboard, a growing group of marina owners and harbormasters has created the Clean Marina program. Using boater education as a key tool, the 100-plus member marinas in California employ program-prescribed best management practices that help prevent or reduce pollution and earn the marinas points toward Clean Marina certification. Many Bay Area marinas currently carry the Clean Marina designation but several notable local marinas have so far chosen not to participate.
Isley helped earn Emery Cove its certification. The Indiana native, who had a Los Angeles-to-New Zealand sailing trip under her seafaring belt before settling in the Bay Area in 1986, runs a tight ship when it comes to the marina under her charge.
For those boat owners who use their on-board heads, Isley requires that they call her from the marina’s pump-out station so that she can keep track of how often they are pumping out, or provide proof that a mobile pump-out service was contracted. She also performs an annual check of each boat to ensure that its y-valve is secured in the closed position. An open y-valve allows sewage to be discharged directly into the water.
In addition to allowing harbormasters to control the quality of the water in their own marinas, Isley said the measures afford a great opportunity for harbormasters to educate their tenants.
"It’s a good time to talk to your tenants about the laws and regulations, which are updated pretty regularly," she said. "That’s particularly important with new boaters and weekend boaters, who aren’t as familiar with the laws as the old-timers. I’m more concerned about new boaters and weekend boaters than I am about the liveaboards."
"I know that many harbormasters are sort of at their limit, workload-wise; but it really only takes a few minutes," she said. "And it gives me something to help prove to the powers-that-be that we’re complying with the rules if we’re ever challenged."
The Clean Marina program proved to be a very effective tool when regulators recently attempted to throw new fees at the problem of pollution from marinas. Those fees would have cost marinas hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"Marina owners and boat owners already pay so much in fees," she said. "In fact, we already pay for water monitoring when we dredge."
The group was able to shoot down the additional charges, for now at least, by providing detailed documentation proving their compliance with laws pertaining to the handling of sewage on small vessels. "That’s what you need, to be able to provide documentation like we did," she said. "You have to be organized."
In exchange for temporarily dropping talk of added fees, the state came up with a list of additional points that it wants folded in to the Clean Marina program. Isley said that Clean Marina’s president, Tim Leathers, is working now to incorporate those points.
"I don’t think the issue is completely dead," she added. "So the key is to be proactive. And educating and raising consciousness within the boating community is important."
For more information on the Clean Marina program, visit www.cleanmarina.org
Emery Cove has been a designated “Clean Marina” for successful implementation of the Best Management Practices in the Clean Marina Program since November 2006.
Emery Cove Yacht Harbor is a 430-slip dockominium marina located on the
Emeryville Peninsula. A dockominium is a marina that allows tenants to
purchase their slips. Emery Cove Yacht Harbor is the only marina in the
Bay Area offering the possibility of owning your own boat slip in a 100
percent fee title ownership. Photo by Jean-Michel Addor