Working with Boaters and Marine Trades for Cleaner Washington Water

Washington Sea Grant Hosts 2013 National Working Waterfronts Symposium

There has been a lot of buzz lately about shoreline uses/development. Scott Wilson just wrote a good article on the lack of public moorage in downtown Seattle for ThreeSheetsNW. Seattle, earlier this year, just came out with a long-awaited update to their Shoreline Master Program, including some controversial decisions on the allowance of floating homes and house barges. And there has been much talk in recent years about regulating moorage communities, in Quartermaster Harbor and Eagle Harbor, for instance.

Well, add one more shoreline-use discussion to the list because later this month – March 25-28, 2013 – Washington Sea Grant is producing the third National Working Waterfronts & Waterways Symposium, to be held in Tacoma.

This is a big deal for Tacoma. The national spotlight will be on our area and the topics are all salient to the future of how we think about development. These topics will include, among others, economic and social impacts of/on working waterfronts, the future of working waterfronts and keeping waterfront industries commercially viable. The symposium is geared for anyone who has a vested interest – professional or personal – in the way that we use our waterfronts. Discussions will include both local issues and national topics.

This symposium is important not only because of the role that working waterfronts play in our economy – 6.75 million jobs and $645 billion in value-added GDP in the U.S. alone – but also because of the ‘gatekeeper’ role that working waterfronts play in preventing pollution from entering the marine environment of Puget Sound.

It might seem a little counter-intuitive at first to think about waterfront industry helping to clean up our waters, but consider this: legally-operating facilities along the water are required to comply with extremely stringent stormwater runoff benchmarks (we’re talking 50 parts per billion for copper, 85 parts per billion for zinc – these numbers are for Boatyards operating under Ecology’s Boatyard General Permit). If those industrial facilities are forced out, either by expanding urban development or environmental litigation, less-regulated alternatives might pop up to fill the void.

For instance, imagine a Puget Sound without regulated Boatyards (capital ‘B’ for those yards operating under the Boatyard Permit, lowercase ‘b’ for the rogue facilities not under the permit). These Boatyards are currently required to capture, contain and treat the water used to pressure wash the bottom of your boat. They are required to conform with a long list of mandated best management and operational practices to minimize the release of toxic boat products into the environment. Many yards have invested in fancy (expensive) stormwater treatment systems in order to get into compliance with regulations. Sidenote: these are the reasons for that “Environmental Fee” that I’m sure you know about.

Without Boatyards, we’re left with boatyards (emphasis on lowercase ‘b’). Boat maintenance still needs to happen, so the work shifts to the backyards, the empty parking lots, the small facilities flying under the radar. Ecology Boatyard Inspectors don’t pay visits to these facilities. Copper, zinc, oil, acetone are not kept in check by fastidious yard managers and are free to run into sewers and into the Sound untreated and there go on to harm our salmon, our shellfish, our marine mammals.

Environmental regulation, from a broad perspective, is a good thing. It protects the natural resources that belong to all of us from the pollution coming from a few of us. It is important to support and encourage those industrial facilities that are doing their part by being in full compliance with those regulations (this is exactly what our Clean Boatyard Program strives to do).

Which is why this upcoming symposium on working waterfronts is so important. It happens in Tacoma, at Hotel Murano, from March 25-28. Go to or contact Nicole Faghin at or 206-685-8286 for more information.