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Committee urges formulation of rules for marine toilets, marinas

Tuesday, December 10, 2013 by Michael Kanin

The City of Austin is facing a mountain of issues in its attempt to better regulate a set of items that include marine toilets, marinas and holding tanks. Among them is probable cost, extent of the trouble, and – perhaps the largest – lack of clear regulatory authority with regard to the issue.


Council Member Chris Riley, speaking at last week’s meeting of the Council’s Health and Human Services Committee, summed up the problem for his colleagues: “Do we know of other Texas cities that have undertaken an effort like this?” he asked.


Austin Water Utility Conservation Division Manager Tony Canales listed off other municipalities, but no cities. “The state regulations imply that it is the county’s responsibility.”


“That’s what I wanted to get at: Whether we’re treading fresh ground here,” continued Riley.


The issue is rooted in a set of findings that was produced by the recently concluded Lake Austin Task Force. That group found that there was no regulation of marine toilets, and that that fact was problematic.


Council then instructed City Manager Marc Ott to “develop a process to ensure administration and enforcement” of “marine toilets, holding tanks and marinas.” Austin Water Utility staff visited the committee Tuesday to report on their progress.


Canales ran down the situation for Council members. He noted that there are currently 174 boats and other facilities in Travis County that contain marine sanitation devices registered with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, but that the actual figure that would be subject to regulation could balloon to 1,700.


He also pointed to the potential cost of a program. “There used to be fees and a fee schedule” associated with regulations. “For whatever reason they got dropped,” Canales continued, “so we’ve got to start all over with a fee schedule.”


Though there are regulations on state books that could be used to address marine toilets, revision is needed. Canales said that he and his colleagues would have to vet any attempt to bring regulations to the city with Austin’s legal department and county officials. TCEQ approval could also be necessary.


Council Member Mike Martinez noted the scope of the issue. “This is a critical issue,” he said. “One of the things that stands out for me, though…is the burden that could potentially be on the City of Austin could be a magnitude that is pretty high.”


Martinez called for the city to work with other entities to establish and enforce new regulations. “These bodies of water are not just beneficial to Austin, they are beneficial to the County, other surrounding communities,” he said. “What I would suggest or hope that we are in conversations with other local governments (about) some kind of interlocal agreement.”


Assistant Water Utility Director Daryl Slusher agreed with Martinez. “Council member, I think that is a very excellent point,” Slusher said.


Canales – who told Council members that he was brought in to handle the issue because “no one else is willing or able to do it” – noted that staff was still in the early stages of designing the new program. He also said that a key problem was that Water Utility officials had no boats to use for enforcement.

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