“No Discharge Area” Designation Celebration!

Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officially designated all Massachusetts coastal waters as a vessel “No Discharge Area” (NDA) – an important step in our state’s clean water efforts.

A NDA is a designated body of water that prohibits the discharge of treated and untreated boat sewage. While Federal Law prohibited the discharge of untreated sewage from vessels prior to this new state-wide NDA designation, the discharge of treated sewage was allowed in certain areas. Now both untreated and treated waste is prohibited in ALL state coastal waters (see map).

The majority of our state’s coastal waters were designated as NDAs prior to this new state-wide designation, however there were some small areas not covered. EPA had to put suitable pump-out facilities in place that take waste off vessels, particularly for larger commercial vessels, before the full designation could be finalized. Now that these pump-out facilities are now complete, vessels must hold waste until they can get to one before discharging waste.

On Fri., June 27th, at 10:00 am Governor Patrick, along with a variety of federal, state, and local officials, will be in Plymouth to celebrate the official state-wide NDA designation. The celebration will be held at the base of Plymouth Jetty behind the East Bay Grill at 173 Water Street, Plymouth.

While the NDA designation is good news for water quality, it’s important to keep in mind that it only applies to vessel discharges. It doesn’t mean that untreated or improperly treated waste is not ended up in our coastal waters. For instance, in 2012 and 2013, Plymouth’s wastewater treatment facility – although regulated by EPA – accidentally discharged untreated or minimally treated raw sewage into Plymouth Harbor on multiple occasions, ranging from 500 to 100,000 gallons. As a result, in April 2013 EPA issued an Administrative Order to the Town for violating the Clean Water Act by dumping improperly treated sewage into the Harbor.

As required by this Administrative Order, the Town recently submitted a Capacity, Management, Operation, and Maintenance (CMOM) Corrective Action Plan to EPA, which outlines how the Town and Veolia (the contracted operator of the Town’s wastewater facility) plan to manage, maintain, repair, and upgrade the town’s sewer collection system in a “systematic and proactive manner” – to prevent accidental discharges from happening again. We are in the process of further reviewing and analyzing the CMOM Corrective Action Plan to see if it includes the necessary components to fully protect Plymouth Harbor and Cape Cod Bay.

So while the new state-wide NDA designation is a positive step, it’s important to keep in mind that EPA needs to enforce the rules once they are in place to truly protect our coastal waters.