County to Boaters: ‘Pump Your Poop’

The pump out station at Penrose Point has been out of service since April 2019.
The pump out station at Penrose Point has been out of service since April 2019. Ted Olinger, KP News

Pierce County, in partnership with Washington State Parks, The Recreational Boaters Association of Washington and Minterbrook Oyster Farm, will provide a free mobile pump-out service vessel for boaters in the South Sound this summer.

The 26-foot vessel, built by Washington State Parks, will be operated by NW Mobile Pump Out and Marine Environmental Services, and can hold approximately 400 gallons of waste.

Until recently, boaters could dump human waste from their vessel holding tanks directly into the water so long as they were three miles from shore, or by using fixed pump-out stations miles apart on the Puget Sound shoreline. But in May of 2018 the Sound was designated a “No Discharge Zone.”

While it is now illegal for private vessels to dump sewage (commercial ships have been allotted a five-year grace period), the Department of Ecology’s primary approach to enforcing this new rule is through education and outreach with their “Pump Out, Don’t Dump Out” campaign.

“I’ll compare pumping-out boats to recycling,” said Jeff Barney, the watershed planner for Pierce County. “You live in Seattle; they make it super easy. The further out you live, the opportunities are less.”

While sewage pump-out stations and services can be easily accessed in more frequented areas of Elliot Bay, Lake Union and Lake Washington, boaters will find that when traveling to a South Sound destination, docks with fixed pumps are few and far between. Though apps such as “Pumpout Nav” exist to help locate these stations, there’s no guarantee the pumps will be readily available or even working.

Penrose Point State Park currently has the only marine pump-out station on the Key Peninsula, but access to the pump head at Penrose for some vessels is dependent on the tides and volume of boaters at the dock. Even in the most ideal conditions, the excess stress on the system that comes with summer crowds can mean there are periods when the pump is out of order.

“Penrose (pump out) is closed until further notice,” according to a Washington State Parks and Recreation email May 27. The pump out station has been out of service since April 2019.

“This doesn’t provide a lot of opportunity,” Barney said, referring to options for disposing of waste while visiting the area.

The next closest pump is located at the Tacoma Narrows Marina, across the Sound.

“My division, along with our partners, have been looking at how else we can support the pump-out system (at Penrose) and the vessel seems to be the most cost effective,” Barney said.

The boat will operate from mid-June until Sept. 30 on weekends and holidays by appointment and will service locations around Key Peninsula as well as Anderson Island, Cutts Island and Wollochet Bay.

Permits are currently being reviewed by the Pierce County hearing examiner to install a new marine pump-out system in Filucy Bay at the Longbranch Marina. Barney said there is funding for the project, but construction won’t begin until 2022.

Monitoring water quality and managing pollution around the Key Peninsula is a priority for the South Sound Clean Water Partners, which include the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, Pierce Conservation District, and Thurston, Kitsap and Mason counties.

High levels of fecal coliform caused Pierce County to designate Filucy, Vaughn and Rocky bays as well as Burley Lagoon, as Shellfish Protection Districts to enhance protection.

While various factors such as failed septic systems and general runoff contribute to water pollution, the pump-out vessel should prevent over 10,000 gallons of waste from being dumped into the water annually.

Christina Rohlia, a public information specialist with Pierce County, said “We’re trying to create an opportunity to break down barriers to being good stewards and make it as easy as possible for boaters to pump-out, and this vessel is a key tool to do that.”

For more information about the mobile pump-out program or to make an appointment for pump-out go to