No Discharge Zone Declared in Lake Erie

By Eric Haun
Friday, June 27, 2014

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation today declared the New York side of the Lake Erie shore line a “no discharge zone,” which means that boats are completely banned from discharging sewage into the water. The EPA reviewed the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s proposal to establish a no discharge zone for the lake and determined that there are adequate facilities in the area for boats to pump out their sewage. Boaters must now dispose of their sewage at one of the lake’s specially-designated pump-out stations. This action is part of a joint EPA and New York State strategy to eliminate the discharge of sewage from boats into the state’s waterways.

The no discharge zone for the New York State portion of Lake Erie is a 593 square mile area and 84 miles that includes the waters of the lake from the Pennsylvania-New York State boundary, as well as the Upper Niagara River and numerous other tributaries, harbors and bays of the Lake, including Barcelona Harbor, Dunkirk Harbor and the Buffalo Outer Harbor. Lake Erie and its harbors, bays, creeks and wetlands support fish spawning areas and habitat, commercial and recreational boating, and recreational opportunities.

A “no-discharge zone” means that boats are prohibited from discharging sewage into the water. Boaters must instead dispose of their sewage at specially-designated pump-out stations. Discharges of sewage from boats can contain harmful levels of pathogens and chemicals such as formaldehyde, phenols and chlorine, which have a negative impact on water quality, pose a risk to people’s health and drinking water as well as damage aquatic life.

“Clean water is one of New York’s most valuable assets, and pumping sewage from boats into local waters is a practice that is both harmful and completely unnecessary,” said EPA Regional Administrator Judith A. Enck. “Creating a no discharge zone for the New York portions of Lake Erie is an important step in protecting this amazing lake.”

DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said, “Lake Erie represents a tremendous natural and recreational resource for New Yorkers. It is a major public water supply, providing drinking water for a large portion of Western New York, so it is imperative for recreational boaters to do their part to help keep Lake Erie clean from biological contaminants. The no discharge zone is our effort to help sustain water quality for drinking as well as recreational use.”

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation petitioned the EPA in July 2012.

The EPA initially made a determination in December 2012 that adequate sewage pump out facilities exist and that the state’s proposal to designate areas of Lake Erie as a “no discharge zone” can go forward. The EPA received significant comments questioning the availability of sewage pump-out facilities, particularly for larger vessels, and the EPA conferred with New York State to gather more information. That information gathering was completed and in September of 2013 the EPA re-proposed its determination that there are adequate facilities. The EPA has now finalized its decision, which went into effect on June 20, 2014.

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