Dirty business keeps bay clean

City gets new 'pumpout' boat, donates old one

By PAMELA WOOD, Staff Writer
Published November 15, 2006, The Capital, Annapolis, Md.

Photo by J. Henson — The Capital
Annapolis Deputy Harbormaster George Ward and West/Rhode Riverkeeper Bob Gallagher talk aboard the Gerald W, the city’s old pumpout boat that was turned over to the riverkeeper program yesterday. Mr. Gallagher hopes offering on-the-water pumpouts will keep boaters from dumping their waste in the water.

"This boat is like an old friend who served us well," Deputy Annapolis Harbormastor George Ward said wistfully, after handing the keys of the city's Gerald W pumpout boat to a new owner.

After a decade in the city of Annapolis, the Gerald W is heading south to Shady Side, where West/Rhode Riverkeeper Bob Gallagher plans to start up an on-the-water pumpout service for south county boaters.

The city, in turn, has a shiny new replacement, a $146,000, 28-foot aluminum vessel paid for by state grants.

City officials stressed that the aging Gerald W - named in honor of former state senator Gerald Winegrad - is still a good boat. But it has taken a beating in Annapolis, pumping more than 330,000 gallons of waste from Annapolis boaters since 1995.

The new boat has all sorts of bells and whistles: radar, global positioning, electronic charts, two radios, a 140-horsepower four-cycle Yanmar diesel engine, 50 feet of hose and a translucent 300-gallon tank that can be off-loaded.

Name the ‘Honeydipper’

West/Rhode Riverkeeper Bob Gallagher plans to rename his “new” pumpout boat, formerly known as the Gerald W. He’s planning a “Name the Honeydipper” contest.

Suggestions can be sent to bob@westrhoderiverkeeper.org.
As for the new Annapolis pumpout boat, Harbormaster Ric Dahlgren isn’t sure whether to adopt the name Gerald W, or give the boat a new name.

Send those suggestions to harbormaster@annapolis.gov.
Mr. Dahlgren promises a free pumpout to the person who comes up with the best name.

The boat is faster, more fuel efficient and can go into shallower waters because it has no propeller. It is equipped with law enforcement lights and is made of sturdy aluminum.

"She's built for hard seas and rough waters. She's a great multipurpose boat," Mr. Ward said yesterday at City Dock, where both boats were on display.

The old boat was named for Mr. Winegrad in 1995. He helped push for the law that requires pumpouts at marinas and he helped arrange for the original pumpout boat to be donated to the city.

Though he hadn't heard of the new mission for his namesake boat, Mr. Winegrad said he didn't mind. He's just glad it's still keeping human waste out of the Chesapeake Bay.

As unpleasant as it may seem, boaters who dump their waste overboard instead of pumping it out are causing pollution to the bay.

"It's one of the things in trying to restore the bay - you have to look at every source," Mr. Winegrad said.

Mr. Ward said he hopes the new boat will attract more business for pumpouts.

For $5, a harbormaster's employee will head out to a boat in the water and offload the boat's treated human waste, called "blackwater," into the pumpout boat's tank. When the pumpout boat fills up, it's taken to a discharge point on land and sent into the sewage treatment system. The whole procedure takes only five minutes.

On-the-water pumpouts aren't the only way for boaters to get rid of their waste.

Most marinas are required to have pumpout facilities, but sometimes they aren't working or the marinas are overburdened, Mr. Gallagher said.

And when boaters can't find a pumpout service - or when they can't be bothered to do the right thing - they may end up dumping their load into the water and roiling the water with nutrients and bacteria.

"There's a lot of untreated waste that goes overboard," Mr. Gallagher said.

He said researchers at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater studied the West and Rhode rivers and found that after busy boating weekends, bacteria and pollution in the water spikes.

He also did an informal survey and estimated that 2,500 to 3,000 boats with head facilities use the south county rivers on most summer weekends. The dozen marinas that offer pumpout service complete about 1,500 pumpouts in a given year - a number that Mr. Gallagher said is way too low.

Those two pieces of evidence lead him to believe that waste is being dumped in the river by boaters.

He hopes to get grant money to hire someone to operate the pumpout boat starting next summer. The pumpout boat's schedule will be based on the demand.

"Boaters want clean water and the overboard discharge is interfering with that," he said.

(revised November 2006)