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Federal Aid Division -- The Clean Vessel Act


What is the Clean Vessel Act?

Congress passed the Clean Vessel Act (CVA) in 1992 to help reduce pollution from vessel sewage discharges. The act established a five-year federal grant program to be administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and authorized $40 million from the Sport Fish Restoration Account of the Aquatic Resources Trust Fund for use by the States. Federal funds can constitute up to 75% of all approved projects with the remaining funds provided by the States or marinas.

What the Act Does

Grants are available to the States on a competitive basis for the construction and/or renovation, operation, and maintenance of pumpout and portable toilet dump stations. States submit grant proposals to the Fish and Wildlife Service for review. The Service's Division of Federal Aid then convenes a panel including representatives from the Division's Washington Office, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Coast Guard. The panel reviews, ranks, and makes funding recommendations to the Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service. The Director gives priority consideration to grant proposals which provide installation and/or operation of pumpout and dump stations under Federally approved State plans. Proposals offering the greatest benefit to the intended waters and the general public also take precedence.

All recreational vessels must have access to pumpouts funded under the Clean Vessel Act. A maximum fee of $5 may be charged for use of pumpout facilities constructed or maintained with grant funds. NOAA will mark pumpout and dump station locations on its nautical charts. The pumpout symbol and national slogan, "Keep Our Waters Clean -- Use Pumpouts" will appear on products and marinas supporting the Clean Vessel Act.

Halfway through the program, grants have been awarded to install 1,200 pumpout stations and 630 dump stations.

What Happens When You Dump

Raw or poorly treated sewage can spread disease, contaminate shellfish beds and lower oxygen levels in water. Organic matter in sewage is decomposed in the water by bacteria. During this process, the bacteria use oxygen. As a result, sewage in the water may deplete the water's oxygen level, causing stress to fish and other aquatic animals.

Shellfish are filter feeders that eat tiny food particles filtered through their gills into their stomachs, along with bacteria from sewage. Shellfish can convey nearly all waterborne pathogens, including hepatitis, typhoid and cholera to humans.

Sewage contamination is measured in terms of fecal coliforms -- bacteria produced in the intestines of all warm-blooded animals. Test results are expressed as the number of bacteria per 100 millimeters (ml) of water. Shellfish beds are closed when the coliform count reaches 14 per 100 ml of water. Public beaches are closed to swimmers when the coliform count reaches 200 per 100 ml of water.

Areas most likely to be affected are sheltered waters with low flushing rates, waters with significant recreational value, areas set aside for shellfish harvesting, State and Federally designated significant habitats such as those in Coastal Zone programs, as well as waters designated by the Environmental Protection Agency as "No Discharge Areas."

In January and February 1995, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that outbreaks of viral gastroenteritis in Florida, Georgia and Texas, resulting from the consumption of raw oysters, was traceable to marine sewage disposal on or near oyster harvesting areas in Apalachicola and Galveston Bays. Studies also show the possibility of viral transmission in cooked oysters.

What We are Doing to Educate Boaters

The Clean Vessel Act provides a portion of its total funding for educational outreach regarding the effects of boater sewage and the means by which boaters can avoid improper sewage disposal.

The first goal is to make boaters aware of the importance of proper sewage disposal. The awareness campaign kicked off at the February 1996 Miami Boat Show. The kickoff included representatives from the Department of Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Environmental Protection Agency, NOAA, U.S. Coast Guard, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the National Marine Manufacturers Association. These agencies continue to work with marine interests to distribute materials and educate boaters on the use of pumpout and portable toilet dump stations. States also held similar events. Major national CVA educational products include a poster for distribution to more than 22,000 marinas, press and training packets, and various public service announcements for radio, television and print media. States are producing their own educational products.

The second goal informs boaters and marina operators of sewage disposal problems, educates them on the use and advantages of pumpout and dump stations, and where to best locate such stations. Boaters and anglers, by calling 1-800-ASK-FISH, a toll-free number established by the Sportfishing Promotion Council, can find the location of pumpout and dump stations, and can report malfunctioning facilities.


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Last updated: January 21, 2010