Marina owners on Fontana join forces for clean water
This summer, Clean Marina flags will fly over five marinas on Fontana Reservoir: Alarka Boat Dock, Almond Boat and RV Park, Crisp Boat Dock, Greasy Branch Marina, and Prince Boat Dock.
“Five years ago, it just didn’t seem possible,” recalls Steve Akers, a member of TVA’s Little Tennessee Watershed Team. “The obstacles appeared insurmountable.”
He explains: “Fontana is a no-discharge reservoir, which means that marine waste holding tanks must be pumped into a sewage treatment system. Consequently, to receive Clean Marina designation, marinas on Fontana must provide affordable and accessible pumping services to their customers.
“Until recently, however, there were no pumping programs in operation. Houseboat owners had three options, none of them good: carry their sewage home, dispose of it in the woods, or dump it into the reservoir. Based on water sampling results, which showed elevated levels of fecal coliform, a lot of people were choosing to ignore the no-discharge rule.”
Dock owners were concerned about the problem, but the cost of installing pump-out facilities (about $100,000 each) was a major deterrent. Plus, Fontana’s sewage problem was unique. Many of the houseboats on the reservoir are permanently moored in small coves, so a conventional system where people came to the dock to pump out their septic tanks wouldn’t solve the problem.
Akers credits several local groups with turning the situation around: “The Partnership for Bryson City/Swain County and the Fontana Lake Users Group were instrumental in pushing for marine waste ordinances for both Swain and Graham Counties. These ordinances, which took effect in March 2005, require all vessels to have permanent flushable toilets and be under a pumping contract with their home marina operator.” Pumping contracts include provisions for transferring the flushed water from the vessel’s holding tank to a tank onboard a pump-out boat. The pump-out boat then transfers the contents of its tank to a larger floating tank at a nearby marina. When this tank is full, it is pumped out by a commercial hauler and transferred to the nearest land-based wastewater treatment plant.
“Another group formed under the Partnership, Fontana Lake Waste Recovery, Inc., has generated enough grant funding to purchase five maneuverable pump-out boats and five floating holding-tank platforms and to pay for maintenance and operating costs for the first two years of operation. Additional grant money is being used to upgrade wastewater treatment plants in Bryson City and Robbinsville and pay for the state-required pumping permits for the entire reservoir.”
As a project partner, TVA has provided some startup funds, two surplus boats, and technical and organizational support. But Akers is quick to acknowledge that this is a locally led effort. “We’ve had at least four public meetings, and to my best recollection, these are the only public meetings I’ve attended where everyone was in agreement. People offered a lot of different solutions, but they were united in their commitment to clean water. There’s no division whatsoever. And that’s truly remarkable.”
The newly certified Clean Marinas on Fontana also have taken other steps to reduce boating-related pollution. These include better fuel handling, solid waste disposal and recycling, erosion control, and public education and outreach.
Currently, 61 marinas in the Tennessee Valley have been certified as Clean Marinas.