Boat Waste No Discharge Fact Sheet

Little known fact

In 1991, after funding boat pump-out facilities around Buzzards Bay, the Buzzards Bay NEP worked with the Town of Wareham to prepare a boat waste No Discharge Area application for its coastal waters, and in spring of 1992 EPA made the designation. This became the first marine waters NDA in New England, and among the first in the country. In 1994, also with BBNEP assistance and funding for pumpout facilities, the Town of Westport applied for and received the NDA designation for the East and West Branch of the Westport Rivers. The Wareham Westport NDAs became subsumed in the larger Buzzards Bay NDA in 2000.

A Proposed No Discharge Area Designation for Buzzards Bay

Fact Sheet from 3/15/00


The Buzzards Bay Action Committee, on behalf of the municipalities of Buzzards Bay, and with technical assistance by the Buzzards Bay Project, has submitted a request to the Massachusetts Secretary of Environmental Affairs to designate all of Buzzards Bay a boat No Discharge Area (NDA). This application is expected to be endorsed by the State and submitted to the US EPA for approval by July 4, 2000. This designation would mean the discharge of sewage from boats, even if it is treated, would be prohibited in Buzzards Bay. This designation is also part of a larger effort by the communities of Buzzards Bay to treat stormwater, upgrade failed septic systems, and upgrade sewage treatment facilities, and reduce fuel and oil spills in Buzzards Bay. This proposed designation is also supported by the Buzzards Bay Coalition, the Buzzards Bay NEP and Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management.

Table 1. 1999 estimates of boats by municipality, based on public and private slips and moorings. MSD estimates include worse case conditions and transient boats.


worst case estimatedType Is,IIs
Town slips moorings combined est MSDs
Bourne2 739 1678 2417 798 120
Dartmouth 300 880 1180 389 58
Fairhaven 494 318 812 268 40
Falmouth1 120 850 970 320 48
Gosnold3 46 218 264 87 13
Marion 156 1417 1573 519 78
Mattapoisett 84 851 935 309 46
New Bedford 1035 285 1320 436 65
Wareham 640 916 1556 513 77
Westport 600 630 1230 406 61
TOTALS 4214 8043 12257 4045 607


1 Buzzards Bay waters only. 2 Does not include dingy “outhauls.” 3 Does not include Tarpaulin Cove (Sound side) or transients offshore


Who is affected?

It is estimated that, at most, one third of the entire boat population in Buzzards Bay has toilets (marine heads), also referred to as Marine Sanitary Devices or MSDs) installed. Eight-five percent of these boats have what are referred to as Type III MSDs, which are actually holding tanks for the sewage, which is pumped off board. Most Type III MSDs do not treat the sewage in any way except to deodorize it. Type III MSDs may be fitted with a Y-valve to allow the overboard discharge of the holding tanks at sea. However, it is illegal to dump these holding tanks within US “Territorial Seas.” Because the entirety of Buzzards Bay is designated a Territorial Sea, it already currently illegal to dump Type III holding tanks in Buzzards Bay, and a NDA would not affect these boats.

Separate from the designation, Buzzards Bay municipalities have been working hard to provide adequate and easy-to-access pump-out facilities for boats with Type III MSDs so there is no incentive to illegally dump untreated sewage in Buzzards Bay.

The remaining 15% of boats with MSDs have either a type I or Type II MSD. These devices grind up the sewage and usually treat it with a chemical such as chlorine, and discharge it overboard. Type I MSDs allow for the discharge of up to 1000 fecal coliform bacteria per 100 ml. Type II MSDs allow up to 100 fecal coliform bacteria per 100 ml. Generally, these toilets have little or no storage capacity, and when the toilet is flushed, the macerated and disinfected sewage is immediately discharged overboard. Some of these MSDs may have been designed or retrofitted with holding tanks and could use pump-out facilities, but most do not. An additional concern about Type I and Type II MSDs is that some boat owners may not properly maintain these systems or maintain disinfectant chemical supplies, so these systems are believed to sometimes discharge untreated raw sewage. The No Discharge Area Designation will only directly affect Type I and II MSDs, and prohibit their use in Buzzards Bay. The number of boats in Buzzards Bay with these kinds of toilets is estimated to be 300 to 600 boats, or 5% of the entire boating population.

How will this designation affect Buzzards Bay?

This designation will help improve and protect water quality and contribute to the opening of shellfish beds in areas of Buzzards Bay.
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