New York petitions for Lake Ontario to go sewage-free

By Carlee Schepeler, Great Lakes Echo

New York wants ships to cut the crap. Photo: C-T-W via Flickr.

New York has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to bar boaters from dumping treated sewage into Lake Ontario.

They would instead have to travel to a pump-out station along the coast. It is currently legal to discharge on-board sewage after treating with an approved marine sanitation device. These devices typically chop up and disinfect sewage to reduce bacteria.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York doesn’t think that’s enough, explaining in a letter to the EPA that a no-discharge zone would “protect the lake’s marine life and habitats from pathogens, endocrine disrupters, and toxins such as formaldehyde, phenols and chlorine.”

All of the Great Lakes states ban the dumping of raw sewage into the Great Lakes.

Michigan has banned the dumping of treated sewage from boats since 1976. In Minnesota, some rivers have this designation, but its Lake Superior waters do not. Wisconsin and Ohio submitted proposals in 2004, but the EPA requested additional information on availability of pump-out stations for certain areas. Decisions are pending.

“In response to a petition, EPA must ensure that a determination fully meets the statutory requirements of the Clean Water Act,” said EPA spokeswoman Phillippa Cannon.

But some industry officials apparently hope approval will happen. Dometic, a company that sells marine toilets, recently cited the request in its advertising copy.

Illinois, Indiana and Pennsylvania have no such designation or proposal. Amber Finkelstein, public information officer at the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, explained that proper sewage disposal is still a priority in her state. The Clean Vessel Act Program and the Clean Marina Program educate boaters and marinas about protecting water quality.

Under the Clean Vessel Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service currently has more than $6 million in active grants in the Great Lakes states, mostly contributing to the building of new pump-out or dump stations.

“The biggest benefit, in my eyes, is that the program helps keep sewage from entering waters where people swim, boat, fish, and enjoy the outdoors,” said Christy Vigfusson, a biologist at the Fish and Wildlife Service. “Millions of gallons of human waste have been prevented from entering our recreational waters because of the Clean Vessel Act grant program.”

© 2011, Great Lakes Echo, Michigan State University Knight Center for Environmental Journalism.

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