Letter to Editors on Proposed Vessel Sewage Regulations

To the Editors: Pacific Yachting, Mariner Life, Fisherman Life and Boats & Places Magazines,

August, 2006

Georgia Strait Alliance (GSA) applauds the intent by Transport Canada to help clean up our coastal waters through the proposed updated pollution prevention regulations of the Canada Shipping Act. With over 3 million people living, working and playing on and around Georgia Strait it is inevitable that regulation, as well as education, is needed to curb our impacts on these waters. With the sewage section of the regulations, we see it as a workable solution to an ongoing issue. We get weekly communication from people all around the Strait concerned about sewage discharges from both commercial and pleasure vessels large and small.

Still, as a boater myself representing an organization that has hundreds of pleasure and commercial boaters as members, I find it difficult to see at the moment how many of us will be able to totally comply with the regulations once in force.  Yes, many of us have and use holding tanks. Yes, we use pump out stations wherever practical and no, we don’t use toxic chemicals in our tanks. Yes, we dump in deep, well-flushed waters away from land when no pump out station is available. And therein lies the problem – the availability of pump-out stations!  Although, to their credit, many private marinas and Harbour Authorities have installed pump-outs over the last few years there are still not nearly enough to service the thousands of boaters who will need to use them in all areas of the coast.

Unfortunately the new regulations do not appear to have any plan or process to address this issue.  As a member of the initial Canadian Marine Advisory Council working group on the sewage section of the regulation I know that we stressed to Transport Canada how important it was to provide a plan for pump-out station infrastructure development so that by the time the regulations come into force there will be enough pump-outs and boaters will be able to comply. The key to the implementation of this part of the new regulation remains coast-wide sewage pump-out infrastructure development and GSA will continue to work for this. One possible solution has already been shown to the bureaucrats of several government departments including Transport Canada – a network of stand alone barges with a solar powered pump-out system (similar to the Nanaimo eco-barge) that is serviced by a converted fishing vessel installed with a Hydroxyl treatment plant.  (Details of this proposal)

When the United States introduced their laws restricting sewage discharge they provided funding to install hundreds of pump out stations throughout the country.  Could poor Canada do the same? Some money from marine fuel tax (over $155 million/year in Canada’s West Coast) could be used in part to fund such a project and we would all be better off for it.

Mike Richards
Program Coordinator – Green Boating
Georgia Strait Alliance