Vol. 9, No. 29
July 19-25, 2001
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No-Discharge Zones a Prudent Step Toward Bay Health

Gov. Glendening’s plan to seek federal designation of two no-discharge zones for boat wastes is a wise move that can protect the health of Chesapeake Bay.

Glendening asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last week for the special designations that would make it a federal violation to discharge boat sewage in Herring Bay and in the coastal waters of Assawoman and Isle of Wight bays in Worcester County.

Already, fresh water like Deep Creek Lake is protected. Maryland needs to document that Herring Bay and the coastal waters are environmentally sensitive and that sufficient pump-out facilities exist for boaters. Meeting both criteria should present no problem; the EPA designations could be issued next spring.

The sensitivity of Herring Bay, one of the Bay’s sailing meccas, was demonstrated anew with the heavy fish kills recently, which were generated by oxygen depletion in those shallow waters. The seepage from old septic systems and the runoff of lawn-greening chemicals along Herring Bay contribute to the nitrogen pollution that sucks up oxygen and chokes aquatic life and stunts Bay grasses.

No-discharge zones are important not just for environmental reasons, as Steuart Chaney, whose Herrington Harbour Marinas flank both sides of Herring Bay, points out. “Clean water is the lifeblood of our industry, and this designation is a practical, cost-effective measure, which will help educate boaters on clean-boating practices,” said Chaney, who has been a driving force in securing the designation.

Some boaters are grumbling, especially those who have installed expensive macerator systems that treat sewage on-board, rendering it technically clean enough for discharge. We’re boaters ourselves, and the effluent prohibitions bother us less than the potential of Coast Guard boardings to enforce the rules.

But we think the greater good must be considered. In New Jersey, two rivers - the Navesink and the Shrewsbury - were declared no-discharge zones, and that state is seeking the designation for two other rivers.

Testifying in front of Congress this year, Margaret Davidson, an official with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, cited the no-discharge zones as one of the reasons why New Jersey’s shellfish harvest has been steadily improving.

While we have climbed onboard the plan, we would be remiss in failing to remind that clean boating is but a small step toward solving the huge problem of nitrogen pollution. No-discharge zones are helpful, but what truly is required is a no-nonsense crusade to obtain federal money to help communities with sewage treatment (the bill is pending in Washington) and a zero-tolerance attitude toward the polluting poultry industry of the Eastern Shore.

Only then might we begin to measure our success in stalking the silent strangler at work in the waters we love.

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly