Sewage Management in Alaska
Alaska’s harbors serve as a gateway to our rich marine environment. With over 68,000 recreational motor boats registered in Alaska in 2013, it’s clear that many Alaskans enjoy boating around the coast, bays and inlets that make up the Alaskan shoreline. Human sewage can contain harmful bacteria and other pathogens, and sewage discharges can contaminate local waters and shellfish beds. The 1992 Clean Vessel Act found that sewage discharge from boats is a “substantial contributor to localized degradation of water quality in the United States.”
Alongside the Clean Harbors (http://alaskacleanharbors.org/) program, we are working with harbormasters around the State to understand their sewage management needs. We understand that many harbors across the state do not have adequate sewage management facilities, such as pump-outs, and that updating and repairing outdated and ageing infrastructure is time consuming and often cost-prohibitive. Federal funding for these projects exists through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program under the Clean Vessel Act (CVA), and we are working with harbors to tap that pot of money. The CVA Grant Program (http://wsfrprograms.fws.gov/Subpages/GrantPrograms/CVA/CVA.htm) was created to provide funding to harbors throughout the country. This funding helps States construct, renovate, operate, and maintain pump-out stations and waste facilities for recreational boaters. Grant funds also help to inform boaters about the benefits, use, and availability of pump-outs within each harbor. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) receives and compiles the applications from each harbor and city/borough/municipality, and we’re working with harbors to make that process as smooth as possible.
Why Manage Sewage?
- Decreases harbor aesthetics: Floating raw sewage is unsightly and can deter future boaters and tourists from visiting your harbor.
- Potential health hazard: Sewage-contaminated water can spread diseases and fecal coliform bacteria such as E. coli.
- Causes oxygen depletion: Decomposing sewage acts like a fertilizer and causes algal blooms, which reduces light in the water. Bacteria in sewage use oxygen, leaving less oxygen available for fish and other aquatic life.
- Closure of shellfish beds: Shellfish filter water, including contaminants and bacteria, which then can infect people who consume them. This can cause economic losses to coastal communities
Types of Marine Sanitation Devices (MSDs)
- Chops or macerates sewage before discharging. May add toxic chemicals.
- Only allowed on vessels less than 65 feet.
- Treats sewage by biological means before discharging. Separates out solids.
- Cleaner but adds more chemicals than Type I
Type III (preferred)
- Does not discharge sewage; includes holding tanks, incinerators, and recirculating tanks.
- Waste is stored until it can be pumped out
Did you know?
- The Clean Water Act prohibits the discharge of raw sewage from a vessel within 3 nautical miles of the U.S. coast.
- The Federal Water Pollution Prevention and Control Act (FWPCA) requires boats with on-board toilets to use a USCG certified Marine Sanitation Device (MSD), preferably Type III.
More About Clean Water
For more information about the CVA Grant Program, contact:
Valerie E. Blajeski
Assistant Statewide Access Program Coordinator
Sport Fish Division, Headquarters