Boaters will be banned from discharging sewage into New York's waters of the Long Island Sound beginning this summer, under a rule proposed by the New York State that gained tentative approval from the federal Environmental Protection Agency this week.
For the state to adopt the ban, it must get a determination by the EPA that adequate pumpout facilities — one for every 300 boats — exist to accept sewage from boaters. New York for petitioned the EPA for the determination last fall. See Oct. 6 story, "No-discharge rules sought for boaters on L.I. Sound."
If the rule is finalized vessels will be prohibited from discharging sewage, whether treated or untreated into New York waters of the Sound and its tributaries and a portion of the East River, from Hell Gate Bridge in the west to the northern bounds of Block Island in the east.
Connecticut waters of the Sound have had no-discharge status since 2007.
There are 68 available pumpout facilities and an estimated 12,193 vessels using the New York waters of the Sound, making the ratio of boats to pumpout facilities 1 to 179, according to the EPA determination.
There are currently no municipal pumpout facilities on the Sound in Riverhead or Southold, though both towns currently operate pumpout boats in the Peconic and Flanders bays. Riverhead also has a pumpout facility at its East Creek Marina in South Jamesport. Riverhead Town is in the process of purchasing a new pumpout boat using grant money from the state Environmental Facilities Corporation.
Private marinas also operate pumpout stations. Download the EPA list of available facilities here.
The 1,320-square-mile L.I. Sound is an estuary, a place where the salt water of the Atlantic Ocean and the fresh water flowing from three rivers in Connecticut mix together. It was designated an "estuary of national significance" in 1987. The Sound is "one of the nation's premier water bodies," the EPA said in its determination.
The Sound — which has an estimated volume of 18 trillion gallons — has suffered from the impacts of development and use. High nitrogen levels blamed on sewage discharges and fertilizer runoff have contributed to oxygen depletion in the the Sound, according to the Long Island Sound Study, an organization of agencies and groups in New York and Connecticut dedicated to the Sound's restoration. Every summer, large areas of the western Sound reach a state of oxygen depletion known as hypoxia, a condition that makes it difficult or impossible for marine life to survive. Pathogens from sewage discharges also compromise both marine life and human health.
"The Sound was once home to some of the most productive shellfish beds in the nation, but many have now closed due to pathogen, low dissolved oxygen, and excessive nutrient contamination," the EPA determination said.
Commercial and recreational activities dependent on the Sound generate about $8.5 billion annually in the regional economy, according to the Long Island Sound Study.
While the discharge ban for recreational boaters would take effect immediately upon final adoption of the rule, the state proposed a one-year phase-in on the discharge ban for commercial vessels, "to allow time for pumpout stations serving such boats to be established." The EPA determined, however, that "adequate facilities for the safe and sanitary removal and treatment of sewage from all vessels are available for the waters of the New York State Long Island Sound." It was not immediately clear if the state would extend the immediate ban to commercial vessels.
The 30-day comment period on the EPA determination regarding adequacy of pumpout facilities ends May 11.
Comments may be submitted by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include "Comments on Tentative Affirmative Decision for NYS LIS NDZ" in the subject line of the message. (Click here to send an email now.) Comments may also be sent by fax to 212-637-3891 and by mail or courier to: Moses Chang, U.S. EPA Region 2, 290 Broadway, 24th Floor, New York, NY 10007-1866. (Tel. 212-637-3867)