FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 27, 2011
SCHUMER: DUMPING SEWAGE & CHEMICALS OFF ROCHESTER’S SHORE COULD PUT SWIMMERS AND BEACHGOERS AT RISK – CALLS ON FEDS TO CREATE NO-DISCHARGE ZONE TO KEEP LAKE ONTARIO CLEAN
Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced a new push to clean up Lake Ontario’s waters near Rochester’s shore. Currently the New York Department of Environmental Conservation is seeking to create a “no-discharge zone” that would prohibit boats from dumping sewage and other potentially harmful chemicals into the waters offshore, a practice which can add pathogens and other toxins to the water. Establishing the zone would require the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to grant the request, and could greatly improve the water quality for summer beachgoers and swimmers, as well as boaters who anchor near the coast to swim.
Last year, Ontario Beach was closed for over half of the swimming season, while Durand Eastman Beach was closed for 32 days of its 51-day long season due to poor water quality. In preparation for the request, the state of New York has helped fund the establishment of 28 of the 37 pump-out stations now located along the Lake Ontario coastline, making it easy and affordable for boaters to discharge their sewage and chemicals in a clean and environmentally-safe manner. The day after Durand Eastman opened to the public, Schumer announced that he is calling on the EPA to grant the state’s request to establish a no-discharge zone as quickly as possible, so that summer beachgoers can swim in clean water, free from bacteria and other potential toxins. Senator Schumer was joined by local boaters and marina owners as he announced his push to secure approval for the no-discharge zone.
“As we enter another summer swimming season and beach-goers flock to New York’s Lake Ontario beaches, it is imperative that we take the necessary steps to safeguard their health and protect the Lake’s marine life and habitats,” Schumer said. “Boaters and beachgoers agree - a No Discharge Zone is critical to keep our shoreline clean, and I urge the EPA to put human health and water quality first and swiftly establish a no-discharge zone.”
The Federal Clean Water Act allows states to request the EPA to establish a No Discharge Zone (NDZ) which is an area of a waterbody or an entire waterbody into which the discharge of sewage, treated or untreated, from all vessels is completely prohibited. Discharge of raw sewage is already prohibited in Lake Ontario and in all in-land waterways and in-land lakes, but chemically treated sewage can still currently be dumped into the lake. States can have all or portions of their waters designated as a no discharge zone for vessel sewage for a variety of reasons. A No Discharge Zone may be designated to protect special aquatic habitats or species and to safeguard human health. A NDZ can also be designated to protect aquatic habitats when the state demonstrates availability of adequate and reasonably available pumpout or dump station facilities for the safe and sanitary removal and treatment of sewage.
Schumer is pushing for Lake Ontario to be designated as a No Discharge Zone, as it is imperative to take the necessary steps to safeguard the health of beach-goers and swimmers as well as to protect the Lake’s marine life and habitats from pathogens, endocrine disrupters, and toxins such as formaldehyde, phenols and chlorine that are found in even treated waste.
“On behalf of the Oak Orchard Yacht Club, the citizens of northern Orleans County and myself, as a concerned individual, the thought of anything less than this regulation to maintain the integrity of Lake Ontario is totally unacceptable,” said Ted Anderson, Commodore Oak Orchard Yacht Club. “As a life-long resident and I might say enjoyer of our lake, I have seen it develop and grow nearly exponentially in population use for water supply, recreation and leisure time activities. Environmental stress and degradation are all too often factors which accompany such growth and must be diligently dealt with to be minimized. The Lake Ontario NDZ is a necessary act to keep the Ecosystem one which will be of value for current and future generations.”
The Canadian government has already set more comprehensive safety standards to protect the health of swimmers and marine life along the Canadian Lake Ontario Coastal Waters. Specifically, in 2001 the Canadian government enacted the Canadian Shipping Act that effectively created a prohibition on discharging any waste within 1 mile of Canada’s Lake Ontario shoreline and a ban on discharging untreated waste as far as 3 miles from shore since even treated wastecan still deliver pathogens and toxins to local waters. Schumer argues that U.S. beach goers should clearly have the same protections as their Canadian neighbors on the other side of Lake Ontario.
Schumer notes that the DEC has taken all the appropriate steps to make Lake Ontario a NDZ. As required under the Federal Clean Water Act, the DEC first certified that a No Discharge Zone is needed to protect human and ecological health and demonstrated that there are enough existing shoreline pump out centers to meet boaters needs. The DEC has worked over the years to help fund more pump-put locations, and there are now 37 located across the Lake Ontario coastline, most of which are available to boaters for free or for a nominal charge. The DEC filed their application with the EPA on May 9th, but thus far the EPA has only acknowledged receipt, and has not yet started the consideration process which involves a public comment period.
Lake Ontario is last in the chain of Great Lakes that straddle the border between Canada and the United States and is the dominating natural asset in this region. Currently there are ten municipal water supplies that draw water from Lake Ontario, serving more than 760,000 people in New York State. Moreover, as part of the Great Lakes System, Lake Ontario is one component of a reservoir that contains 95% of the fresh surface water in the United States and is the largest single reservoir on earth. Lake Ontario is also a major economic driver and its harbors embayments, creeks, and wetlands host numerous commercial and recreational activities such as shipping, fishing, boating, and tourism, in addition to supporting a remarkable diversity of wildlife and fish spawning areas.
A copy of Senator Schumer’s letter to EPA Administrator Jackson appears below:
Dear EPA Administrator Jackson,
I write in support of the creation of a Vessel No-Discharge Zone (NDZ) along the United State’s Lake Ontario Coastal Waters. As we enter another summer swimming season and beach-goers flock to New York’s Lake Ontario beaches, it is imperative that we take the necessary steps to safeguard their health and protect the Lake’s marine life and habitats from pathogens, endocrine disrupters, and toxins such as formaldehyde, phenols and chlorine.
A No-Discharge Zone is an area in which is it prohibited for vessels to discharge sewage into the water. Establishing a Lake Ontario NDZ will limit a source of waste and chemicals that exacerbate current poor water quality conditions that typical result in numerous beach closures each year. For example, last year the two established beaches in Monroe County, New York, Ontario Beach and Durand Eastman Beach, were closed 42 of 81 days (52% of the season) and 32 of 51 days (39% of the season) respectively due to poor water quality.
Moreover, the establishment of an NDZ along the U.S. Lake Ontario Coastal Waters would better align U.S. standards with the stricter rules enforced by Canada in areas of the lake bordering Canada. Specifically, in 2001 the Canadian government enacted the Canadian Shipping Act that effectively created a prohibition on discharging any waste within 1 mile of Canada’s Lake Ontario shoreline and a ban on discharging untreated waste as far as 3 miles from shore since even treated waste can still deliver pathogens and toxins to local waters. U.S. beach goers should have the same protections as their Canadian neighbors on the other side of Lake Ontario.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) recently certified to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under a provision in the U.S. Clean Water Act that there is a need to establish a Lake Ontario NDZ as an additional level of protection to safeguard human and ecological health. In addition, funding provided through New York’s Clean Vessel Assistance grant program helps support more than three dozen shoreline pump-out stations currently available to accept vessel waste and safely accommodate boaters’ needs. Indeed boaters and beach-goers alike that use these waters have a vested interest in protecting these environmentally sensitive near shore areas.
The DEC’s NDZ application was submitted to the EPA on May 9th, however, I understand the EPA has not yet acted on this application nor established the public comment period required prior to EPA approval. In light of the approaching swimming season and the number of Lake Ontario beaches that will open this month, I respectfully request timely consideration of this matter. Please feel free to contact my Washington, D.C. office at 202-224-6542 should you have any questions or need additional information.
Senator Charles E. Schumer