To pump or not to pump, that is the question!
One of the subjects that comes up in my conversations with boaters about how they can help clean our river is marine sanitation devices (MSDs), more generally referred to as the head, or toilet.
The function of an MSD is to electronically kill bacteria in sewage waste prior to pumping it into the on-board holding tank.
Many, perhaps most, boaters believe that if the bacteria has been killed that it’s ok to pump the remaining effluent overboard and no damage is being done to the river. In this month’s Cove, I want to explain that nothing could be further from the truth.
It is true that electronically treating sewage kills the bacteria. But it is also true that MSDs do not remove any of the nitrogen and phosphorus which are present in all animal waste, and are two of the three known pollutants of the Sassafras River.
Nitrogen and phosphorus are the nutrients that produce algae blooms. Algae is a good and natural part of a healthy ecosystem, and provides food for bi-valves and some fish including Atlantic Menhaden, which is the primary forage fish for most of the other species of fish on the East Coast.
But when algae is introduced to more nutrients than it requires, it grows at an alarming rate and “blooms” - clouding the water and in some cases producing toxins which can harm aquatic life, small animals, and people. The cloudiness blocks sunlight and can kill the submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV), commonly known as “Bay grasses”. Thriving grasses are one of the prime indicators of clean rivers, and few remain in the Sassafras.
When the algae inevitably dies and decomposes, dissolved oxygen in the water is quickly depleted, and often produces “fish kills”. It is no secret that there has been a large “dead zone” in the Middle Chesapeake Bay for many years caused every summer by this exact series of events.
The truth is that we boaters should not pump sewage - even treated sewage - into the Bay or any of its tributaries. There is only one good place to pump the sewage from your boat, and that is at a pump out station at any marina. When you do so, you are doing your part to help restore and protect our beautiful Sassafras River.
Thank you for your efforts to help us clean the Sassafras, and I hope to see you on the river!
Capt. Emmett Duke