On July 21st, EPA’s Ocean Survey Vessel Bold was the backdrop for the announcement of a major initiative to protect the water quality of Casco Bay, one of Maine’s most productive estuaries. Maine Governor John Baldacci and EPA Region 1 Administrator Robert Varney announced that the Environmental Protection Agency had approved Maine’s application to designate Casco Bay as a No Discharge Area, banning the discharge of all vessel sewage. It was already illegal to dump raw sewage within three miles of the coast, and this designation now prohibits the disposal of partially-treated sewage by dumping it overboard.
Before introducing Casco Baykeeper Joe Payne, Governor Baldacci praised the Casco Baykeeper and Friends of Casco Bay for their pivotal role in securing this protection for the Bay. Joe Payne said, “The more we can do to protect the bay and keep it healthy, the better the community will be, environmentally and economically.”
Friends of Casco Bay has been working with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for ten years to build pumpout infrastructure, a pre-requisite to applying for a No Discharge Area, and to win passage of legislation to have Casco Bay designated a federal No Discharge Area. In 1995, there was one boat sewage pumpout facility in Casco Bay. Today, there are 20 marina pumpout facilities where boaters can empty their holding tanks. In 1999, Friends of Casco Bay was successful in getting legislation passed that required the Maine DEP to submit the No Discharge Nomination to the EPA.
The EPA designation complements two state laws that offer further protections for the Bay. One, proposed by Friends of Casco Bay, prohibits cruise ships from discharging gray water, the waste water from sinks, galleys, showers, and laundries, a practice allowed under federal law. The other existing law prohibits the discharge of oily bilge water in Maine, while federal law allows the discharge of up to 15 parts per million of oil. “When it comes to vessel discharges,” noted Joe Payne, “with these three measures, Casco Bay will now be the most protected bay in the United States!”
The impact of the new No Discharge Area on recreational boaters will be minimal. More than three-quarters of the estimated 4,896 pleasure boats in Casco Bay have “heads” (marine toilets) with holding tanks for raw sewage that must be emptied either three miles from shore or at designated pumpout stations. This has been the law for decades! Sink and shower water from recreational boats can still be discharged anywhere, as the state “gray water” law applies only to large cruise ships.
Maine now joins the other coastal New England states, all of which have some or all of their territorial waters designated as No Discharge Areas.