Oceanside advisory committee discusses liveaboards, water quality

Oceanside advisory committee discusses liveaboards, water quality

OCEANSIDE – Amidst complaints of liveaboards discharging black water into the harbor, the Oceanside Harbor and Beaches Advisory Committee discussed concerns of water pollution and state regulation at its Sept. 25 meeting.

Mo Lahsaie, an environmental officer with the city of Oceanside, requested the topic be discussed at the advisory committee’s third quarter meeting. Speaking in front of a full dais, Lahsaie explained to the eight-member panel there had been complaints of liveaboards dumping black water into the harbor.

In the context of boats, the dumping of black water occurs whenever someone discards waste water from his or her vessel. Conversely, the California Department of Housing and Community Development defines gray water as untreated wastewater from bathtubs, showers, bathroom washbasins, clothes washing machines and laundry tubs. Not included within the state’s definition of gray water is wastewater from kitchen sinks or dishwashers.

At Oceanside Harbor, Lahsaie said someone filed an anonymous complaint with the California EPA about toilet waste water being discarded into the harbor.

The complaint was forwarded to the Regional Water Quality Control Board in San Diego, where a compliance supervisor looked into the matter.

One question raised at the meeting included how to determine who has open valves.

According to Lahsaie, there were suggestions for a regional agency to perform an unannounced boarding of vessels to inspect and test open valves and determine whether any illegal black water dumping has been taking place.

Oceanside Harbor Manager Paul Lawrence, who assumed his position in late August, said state and county officials definitely have a legitimate concern in regulating black water but he was unaware whether an unannounced boarding ever took place in the harbor.

While he has only been the harbor manager for a few weeks, Lawrence said black water has been a nonissue in Oceanside during his brief tenure.

“I’m not aware of it being an issue. I’ve not seen any evidence of dumping here,” Lawrence said.

Black water is not easy to miss or overlook, Lawrence noted, particularly because of the strong smell emanating from the discharge.

“I can’t picture anyone being able to do this without being discovered. It doesn’t dissipate quickly,” Lawrence said. “It’s so easy to lawfully and ethically get black water into the system. I can’t imagine why a boater wouldn’t wish to take advantage of the free pump out.”

Lawrence said a pump out station is easily accessible at Oceanside Harbor.

Also brought up at the Harbor and Beaches Advisory Committee  meeting was the prospect of off-shore dumping. Specifically, committee member Jim Jenkins asked whether a liveaboard or other boater would be so inclined as to dump black water in the Pacific Ocean.

Lawrence confirmed that the dumping of black water in the ocean is lawful.

Still, the main concern is how much black water dumping liveaboards are actually doing.

Part of the issue is an inability to know exactly how much black water a boat carries at any given time. Lahsaie said the pump out machines at Oceanside Harbor tabulate the total amount of black water collected during the course of a day, but there is no way to determine amounts collected from individual vessels.

Accordingly, Lahsaie suggested a short-term solution.

“I suggested to our harbor folks that whenever boat owners come in for inspection … the people who live aboard their boats should be inspected every year,” said Lahsaie who added that boat owners are generally required to go through inspections every three years.

He also recommended a dye tablet should be used to test leaks of blackwater discharge.

Looking further ahead, Lahsaie said the on-site pump out machines will eventually need to be able to give out individual readings of black water levels within each vessel. However, the technology to provide such individual readings does not yet exist.

Once the technology does become available, Lahsaie suggested city officials should apply for a grant to help pay for the new equipment. Lahsaie said the new pump out machine, once updated, would be rather expensive.

Oceanside Harbor allows up to 90 liveaboards, which is within its regulated limit.

While black water dumping is illegal and the discarding of gray water is heavily regulated, there has been little enforcement.

Chiara Clemente, a senior environmental analyst with the San Diego Water Board’s compliance assurance unit, said her agency has not pursued any enforcement cases since she came on board two years ago.

“We have received complaints,” Clemente added, confirming a complaint in the state’s database alleging improper maintenance by liveaboards at Oceanside Harbor.

Clemente said her office did visit the harbor and discussed the filed complaints with city leaders. However, no cases were opened.

In terms of law enforcement, the Harbor Police would be the first line of defense in citing anyone who illegally dumps black water into the marina. State agencies could become involved in enforcement if the root cause of illegal black water dumping involves malfunctioning pump outs or if local authorities fail to enforce regulations.

The Oceanside Harbor Department is looking into developing a program to address black water and gray water dumping.

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