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#06-336 December 11, 2006

Boaters should be wary of improper sewage disposal

Why worry about your boating waste? Because improper disposal of sewage, whether treated or raw, can impose major impacts on the environment.

Fish and other aquatic organisms need a certain amount of dissolved oxygen to survive. Bacteria decompose the excess sewage and in doing so use a large amount of oxygen. Lower dissolved oxygen levels in the water causes altered behavior, reduced growth, adverse reproductive effects, and mortality of aquatic species.

An excessive amount of sewage in the rivers, lakes, and streams of South Carolina can have severePump-out sign impacts on water quality. The Clean Vessel Act was created to target this problem and inform the public. For more information, contact Lorianne Riggin S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Inland Clean Vessel Act coordinator at RigginL@dnr.sc.gov, or Scott Meister, DNR Coastal Clean Vessel Act coordinator, at MeisterS@dnr.sc.gov.

Sewage not only harms fish, but humans as well. The release of raw sewage or poorly treated sewage can transmit waterborne diseases, such as typhoid, cholera, gastroenteritis, bacillary dysentery, and hepatitis through microorganisms from the human digestion system. People may also contract diseases by eating shellfish like scallops or oysters. Shellfish are filter feeders that ingest tiny food particles from the water through their gills, which goes directly to their stomachs. If sewage is present in the water, then the shellfish also ingest it. People then ingest the shellfish and can be tainted with fecal contaminants and disease.

An excessive amount of sewage also acts as a fertilizer for algae. Algal overload within the water blocks out needed sunlight for important aquatic vegetation that provides nursery habitat for fish and other aquatic species.

Even the release of properly treated sewage may become a problem if boaters aren’t aware of the chemicals in their deodorizers for their onboard toilets. Some boaters may be pouring large amounts of harmful chemicals such as formaldehyde, chlorine, and other ammonium-based compounds into South Carolina’s waters.

What can you do to help? To prevent the possible dangers that sewage can cause to humans and the environment boaters can use portable toilets and dispose of sewage at designated dump stations. Boaters should also make use of onshore restrooms when available. When a toilet is onboard a vessel, boaters legally should have the proper Marine Sanitation Devices installed and use pumpouts at local marinas. Boaters can also encourage their local marinas to take advantage of federal aid and provide pumpouts.

Boaters must also abide by the No Discharge Zones. South Carolina No Discharge Zones include: Broad Creek (Hilton Head Island) and Lakes Hartwell, Keowee, Thurmond, Murray, and Wylie. When operating in these bodies of water, it is illegal to discharge. It is also illegal for houseboats to discharge treated or raw sewage in freshwater.

The Clean Vessel Act was established in 1992 by the United States Congress in order to provide states with funds to educate the public about the consequences of discharging sewage from boats, as well as federal aid for marinas for up to 75 percent of the approved project costs.
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