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Anyone wanting to stay overnight on a boat may have to make sure it’s fitted with a portable toilet, holding tanks or a sewage treatment system under possible changes designed to better protect Northland’s marine environment.
Although existing Northland Regional Council marine pollution regulations effectively ban discharges of untreated sewage in harbours and within 500 metres of the shore, the rules are difficult to monitor and enforce unless someone is essentially caught in the act.
In a bid to address the problem, Council staff are investigating the possibility of making holding tanks (which can include portable toilets) or a sewage treatment system compulsory when people are staying overnight aboard boats in harbours or close to shore. The suggested rules would apply regardless of boat size and whether it was overnighting at anchor or on a mooring.
Council staff say most boaties are responsible and deal with sewage appropriately, however, discharges of untreated sewage by an irresponsible few can contaminate the water with viruses and other nasties which can cause serious illnesses like Hepatitis A.
Justin Murfitt, the Council’s Coastal Policy Analyst, says boat sewage can be many times more concentrated than discharges from land because it has not been diluted by water from toilet cisterns or treated.
Mr Murfitt says that means an untreated discharge from a single weekend boater can effectively put the same amount of bacterial pollution into a localised area of coastal water as the treated sewage of several thousand people on land. The lack of treatment also means that long-lasting viruses can be carried over long distances by wind and tide, posing potential risks to the quality of edible shellfish beds and bathing beaches.
He says a requirement for holding tanks or treatment systems where people stay overnight on a vessel could become conditions of mooring resource consents and also be included in new Mooring Management Plans. Similarly, they could be incorporated into permitted anchorage rules under the Council’s Regional Coastal Plan.
Regional Council staff intend to raise the issue with boating groups, iwi, and other interested parties and any proposals would be widely consulted on as part of a proposed change to the Coastal Plan.
He says most recreational vessels will be able to use a portable toilet, which can cost as little as $200.