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Clean Boating - How Are We Doing?

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.

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