Preventing Pollution from Boatyards

There are more than a dozen boatyards in the Bay Area where recreational, commercial and government boats, ships and yachts are serviced and repaired. Boatyards are a vital part of the maritime industry of the Bay Area.

Boatyards are also a significant source of pollution to San Francisco Bay. Many facilities do not use adequate controls to contain pollution from pressure washing, sanding, painting and other activities. In addition, runoff from waterfront boatyards is likely to wash directly into the Bay.

Fortunately, better management and common-sense pollution controls can drastically reduce runoff from boatyards. Baykeeper has begun work on a new region-wide effort to reduce pollution from Bay Area boatyards.

Baykeeper’s Clean Boatyards Initiative

Baykeeper is providing technical assistance to the California Department of Toxic Substances Control in developing new Best Management Practices for boatyards. Baykeeper specifically advocated for stronger requirements for boatyards to test copper levels in runoff. (The final document has not yet been released.)

As part of our work on the America’s Cup Environmental Council, Baykeeper is advocating for increased education of boaters about boatyard pollution. Boaters should be fully informed of the impacts of boatyard pollution and be aware of what they can do to help protect the Bay.

Baykeeper is exploring Clean Water Act enforcement against boatyards with the greatest pollution problems. Under-funded State agencies lack the resources to comprehensively regulate industrial facilities in the Bay Area, including boatyards, making our citizen suits even more crucial to protecting the health of the Bay.

What Kinds of Pollution Come from Boatyards?

Pressure washing, sanding, painting and other maintenance activities can release heavy metals such as copper, lead and zinc, as well as fiberglass and detergents. Without proper containment, these pollutants are washed into the Bay and nearby creeks and sloughs without being treated or filtered.

One particular pollutant of concern is bottom paint, which contains high levels of copper and zinc. Baykeeper has taken water samples of boatyard runoff that contained copper and zinc at more than 14,000 times the legal limit. Copper and zinc are toxic to a number of aquatic organisms, even at low concentrations, and contribute to the formation of toxic hot spots near boatyards, marinas and ship maintenance facilities.

Dissolved copper has been found to affect the olfactory system of salmon species – reducing their sense of smell – which impacts behaviors such as homing, foraging and predator avoidance. These impacts reduce the chances of survival or reproduction of salmonid species and threaten the salmon populations that migrate through San Francisco Bay.

Keeping Boatyard Pollution Out of the Bay

The Clean Water Act requires industrial facilities, including boatyards, to employ low-technology, cost-effective “non-structural” techniques to control pollution discharges. These include good housekeeping, preventative maintenance, spill response plans and safe hazardous material and waste handling practices.

  • Pressure washing and sanding should occur in designated and contained areas away from water, so that any pollutants released will not run off of the site.
  • Vacuum sanders also help control the spread of pollution and allow for appropriate disposal of the resulting dust.
  • Hard surface work area should be regularly vacuumed to avoid tracking pollutants throughout the site.
  • Outside work should not occur during high winds or rain that increase the chance of spreading pollution to nearby waterways.
  • Some boatyards offer do-it-yourself areas for boat owners to perform their own maintenance. These housekeeping practices should be adequately conveyed to do-it-yourself boaters, with appropriate oversight to ensure pollution is prevented from entering the Bay.
  • Wastewater from boatyards should be kept separate from storm water runoff, so that contaminated wastewater is not discharged to storm drains or nearby creeks or sloughs. Wastewater should be recycled or discharged to a sanitary sewer, where it will be appropriately treated at a wastewater treatment plant.

Structural changes, such as installing an advanced filtration system, are required only after several rounds of non-structural approaches prove unsuccessful at controlling pollution discharges.

Photo by roadscum (Flickr/CC).