Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Designated as NDZ

Wednesday, June 05, 2002
On May 21, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final rule designating the state waters within the boundaries of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary ("Sanctuary") as a "no discharge zone" (NDZ). The rule takes effect on June 19, 2002. The Florida Keys Water Quality Protection Committee, Board of County Commissioners of Monroe County and Governor Jeb Bush supported the designation in the form of resolutions in 1999 and 2000. EPA concluded that the Sanctuary contains unique marine ecosystems that are a State and national treasure of high ecological, educational, aesthetic, recreational and commercial value. The rule applies to state waters only, however the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is pursuing a NDZ designation for the entire waters within the Sanctuary. The NOAA rulemaking process will be complete in early 2003. A map that delineates these areas is available on NOAA’s Web site at www.fknms.nos.noaa.gov. AWO submitted comments on the rule in July 2001 stipulating that the existing pump-out facilities could not accommodate large tug/barge units; that commercial vessels do not appreciably contribute to the pollution of sanctuary waters; and, that Type II marine sanitation devices aboard commercial vessel complied with both EPA's effluent and U.S. Coast Guard's equipment standards. In February 2002, AWO staff and members met with representatives of EPA Region IV to further explain our concerns and to petition EPA for a waiver for commercial vessels operating within the boundaries of the Sanctuary. EPA responded that Type I and II marine sanitation devices do not remove nutrients from wastewater. Although nutrient loadings from vessels may be relatively small, such discharges are harmful to aquatic resources where there is poor circulation and flushing. EPA stipulated that "the dilution of wastewater from a single vessel transiting the Keys may be so great that the discharge may not cause serious ecological problems and may not be detectable within a short distance." Nonetheless, permitting some vessels to utilize Type II systems and not others would lead to insurmountable enforcement problems and confusion among the boating public, according to the EPA. EPA concluded "There are sufficient pump-out facilities in the Key West area to service the limited ocean-going tugs, towboats and other large vessels with destinations in the Key West area. Further, we believe that ocean-going barge traffic navigating through the Sanctuary waters should be able to retain the minimum volume of sewage generated while in Sanctuary waters and then discharge that sewage when outside the established NDZ in an environmentally safe manner." Florida state waters extend three miles from the baseline on the East Coast. Source: AWO Letter

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