New York seeks ban on boats dumping untreated sewage in canals
New York officials want the Environmental Protection Agency to help them keep boat sewage out of the state’s 524-mile canal system.
State DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis signed a petition letter Thursday asking EPA to designate the system as a no-discharge zone, which would outlaw dumping of treated
and untreated boat sewage, as soon as possible.
Federal law currently allows boats to discharge sewage from an approved onboard treatment system into waterways that empty into the sea. The state’s canal system
provides a route from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic through the Hudson River.
Jim Tierney, assistant commissioner for water resources in the Department of Environmental Conservation, said 87 pumping stations were installed along the system
in anticipation of the dumping ban. Tierney said it normally takes about 60 to 90 days for the EPA to approve the rule change, but the state has asked for the process to be expedited. Public hearings will be scheduled as part of the approval process. Other such zones in New York include the Hudson River from New York Harbor to the Troy Dam, 5 miles north of Albany; Lake Champlain and Lake George in northern New York; and certain sections of the Long Island coast.
“We want to see this happen in the entire state,” Tierney said. State environmental officials also will seek the designation for the Great Lakes shoreline, the St. Lawrence River, Long Island Sound and the state’s Atlantic coastline, he said.
Before a zone is approved, the EPA requires sufficient facilities to be available to pump out sewage holding tanks on boats. Federal grants are available to states to construct and maintain dumping facilities.
Most cities and states allow boats to dump sewage near their ocean shoreline, provided the waste is first treated by an approved onboard septic system. It has long been illegal to dump raw sewage or treated sewage in any inland body of water, or raw sewage within 3 miles of the seacoast.
Last year, Boston became the country’s largest urban area to prohibit boats from dumping their sewage tanks in Boston Harbor.
Carmella Mantello, director of the New York State Canal Corporation, said most boaters already use dumping stations to dispose of their waste, but the no-discharge designation will allow authorities to take action against anyone caught dumping waste in the waterway.
The New York Canal System includes the Erie, Cayuga-Seneca, Champlain and Oswego canals and links the Hudson River, Lake Champlain, Lake Ontario, the Finger Lakes and the Niagara River.