America's first serious legislative attempt to clean up our
act on the nation's ponds, lakes, and waterways was enacted into
law in 1972. The goal of the Clean Water Act and subsequent
legislation has been to protect our drinking water, wildlife, and
recreational resources, and to make these waters fishable and
swimable by the turn of the century.
Back in 1972, many lakes and rivers were so badly polluted by
uncontrolled sewage discharge and septic run-off that fecal
bacteria were counted in the millions per gallon. Many New England
rivers were the color of whatever dye was being used in the local
textile mills that day. In
Cleveland, Ohio, the Cuyahoga River had actually caught fire from
the ignition of industrial discharges floating on the surface.
So, how are we doing? Well, we have been very successful in
reducing or eliminating point source discharges from sewage
plants, industrial sites, and other institutional sources of
pollution. We can now boat, fish and swim in many of those waters
without fear of poison or disease. Even the once infamous harbor
area where the Cuyahoga River meets Lake Erie is now bustling with
pleasure boaters and tourists. As the song goes, we really have
changed the world - or at least part of it.
But nonpoint sources of pollution - including agricultural
runoff, tainted stormwater, near-shore septic tanks, and mobile
sources such as boats - are another matter. Even seemingly small
sources of pollution can have a big impact on water quality. For
example, bacteria in shellfish beds in Buttermilk Bay near Cape
Cod were traced to dog feces washed there from surrounding yards
by rainstorms. Pollution from boats and marinas includes litter,
fish waste, sewage, fuels and lubricants, contaminated bilge
water, boat-maintenance products, and storm water runoff.
Each boat and marina may represent only a tiny fraction of the
total, but 94 million of us boat and/or fish each year, and there
are more than 10,000 U.S. marinas and millions of boats.
Pollution can affect boaters by contact, ingestion, and by
biological accumulation in the fish that we catch and eat. About
one-half of fecal mass is potentially virulent bacteria. In
addition, scientists have measured detectable quantities of
caffeine and pharmaceuticals in the Nation's waters.
Our future success or failure in reducing nonpoint pollution is
up to you. It will be controlled only when individuals change old
habits and make the extra effort to properly dispose of waste.
Boaters in particular, as primary beneficiaries of clean waters,
are morally and legally responsible for their actions on the
water, at the dock, in the marina, and at home. In addition to
educating themselves in clean boating and improving their own
practices, they should share information with others, including
legislators. They can improve water quality by factoring it into
such decisions as selecting a marina, performing boat maintenance,
and buying equipment and supplies.
Free information on boating and the environment is available
from the Coast Guard, the EPA, NOAA, state and local governments,
as well as many private companies and organizations, including the
ABA. For information about how to access these free resources,
check out the ABA web page on clean boating at www.americanboating.org,
and share this information with your boating friends.
The American Boating Association
PO Box 690
New Market, MD 21774