July 10, 2008

Houseboats, Marinas Face Tougher State Water Standards

By Mark Prado, The Marin Independent Journal, Novato, Calif.

Jul. 9--OAKLAND -- Houseboat marinas, yacht harbors and cities will face stricter regulations from a state water agency that wants to see Richardson Bay so clean that shellfish can be raised for human consumption.

The plan to rid Richardson Bay of illness-causing microorganisms called pathogens -- typically introduced through human or animal fecal matter -- was approved 7-0 by the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board Wednesday.

"The idea is to keep Richardson Bay safe and for people to enjoy it," said water board planner Farhad Ghodrati.

But some of those affected said the new regulation is excessive.

"We want clean water, but the target has to be realistic, and growing shellfish in these waters is an unrealistic goal," said Stan Barbarich, president of the Floating Homes Association Inc., which represents residents of more than 400 homes in five floating-home marinas on Richardson Bay.

"People should be able to swim, fully submerged in the water, but the idea that someone will grow shellfish here approaches zero," he said.

Richardson Bay has been declared as "impaired" by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Water Act because of the pathogen count, and is considered not clean enough for fishing or swimming.

The bay, which is used for boating, kayaking, rowing and swimming despite its status, has trouble with pollutants because it is shallow, enclosed on three sides and has minimal tidal flushing.

"We are trying to do the

right thing out there," said John Muller, chairman of the water board, in voting for the plan. "It's a very sensitive area to a lot of people."

The regional water board's plan includes requiring houseboat marina owners to submit a plan to fix poor sewer systems and for recreational marina owners to install adequate pump-out and dump stations.

The plan calls on the county, along with Mill Valley, Sausalito, Belvedere and Tiburon, to implement a stormwater management plan as well.

Beginning in 2013, the board will track compliance with the threat of action if parties do not cooperate, although penalties have yet to be determined.

Sausalito officials said they are working toward a plan, and the Sausalito Yacht Harbor said it believes it is in compliance.

"We already have stringent standards here," said Jim Madden, harbor manager.

Madden wondered how much impact there is on water quality from the feces of birds, seals and other animals that turn his docks white. He also noted material from Highway 101 and releases from sewer agencies end up in the bay.

"We are the dumping ground here," Madden said, "and it seems like we are being held to a higher standard than others."

In January, the Sewerage Agency of Southern Marin spilled more than 5 million gallons of sewage into Richardson Bay in a six-day period in two incidents as rainwater overwhelmed its system. Other agencies in the area are also having problems controlling wastewater during rainy periods, but the water board did not include them in the plan because they are already regulated.

A state water board member from Southern Marin said the board should aim to bring water quality to the highest possible level.

"We should not take shellfish harvesting off the table," said Steven Moore of Sausalito. "At one time the bay was a bread basket, a food source."

Contact Mark Prado via e-mail at [email protected]

Read more Sausalito & Marin City stories at the IJ's Sausalito, Marin City section.


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