Harbor Pumpout Survey, 2003

Orange County is home to approximately 17,000 commercial and recreational boats housed in either Newport Harbor, Dana Point Harbor, or Huntington Harbour. The majority of these vessels contain “holding tanks” that retain sewage generated during the normal operation of the vessel. These tanks are limited in size and require emptying regularly to remain operational. If the tanks are not emptied, sewage will overflow and discharge directly into the harbor, causing a variety of environmental problems.


Each harbor is designated as a federal “No-Discharge Zone”, meaning that boat owners are prohibited from emptying their holding tanks into the harbor. To properly dispose of the sewage, boat owners must chose between empty their holding tanks when a safe distance outside the harbor, or using a “pump-out station” in their marina. At these pump-out stations, boat owners can connect a hose to their holding tank and activate a pump that transfers the contents of the holding tank onshore, where it can be properly processed and disposed.

In the summer of 2002, Coastkeeper embarked on an investigation to answer: (1) how many pump-out stations are there; (2) are they each operational; (3) if not, what component is nonoperational; (4) are they sufficiently distributed around and within the marinas; (5) were they visible and well maintained; and (6) what is the water quality immediately surrounding the pump-out stations?


Our investigation concluded that the number of operational pump-out stations listed was inaccurate. For example, the City of Newport Beach listed 23 total pump-out stations in their harbor, however, our investigation discovered only 18 of the 23 existed. Of all existing pump-out stations in the County, a significant number were non-operational for long periods, with some non-operational during the entire summer. Of the 18 actual pump-out stations in Newport Harbor, only 12 were available to the general boating public, and of those the average percentage of pump-out stations operable and available to the public was 69%.

Problems common among all of the harbors were:

  • misidentified pump-out stations
  • stations which were difficult to locate
  • no instructions for boat owners on proper use of the station
  • essential pieces of the station were cracked and repaired with duct tape
  • docks with pump-out stations were frequently blocked for hours or days by boats not utilizing the stations

Coastkeeper collected over 80 bacteria samples during our investigation and tested for Total Coliform and E. Coli. The test results were used as an indicator of potential pump-out station problems, such as leaks, which helped target specific stations for repair and retrofit. Our study concluded that the water near most stations in Newport Harbor exceeded EPA standards for E. coli on multiple dates, with all but one station exceeding the standard on July 29th. Huntington Harbour had some stations which exceeded E. coli, while Dana Point Harbor met EPA standards for both E. coli and Total Coliform during every sample. These mixed results indicate some better practices in Dana Point, while Newport Harbor appeared to have a chronic E. coli problem near stations during the summer of 2002.

In 2002, Coastkeeper recommended improved pump-out station maps for boaters, proper pump-out station instructions, improved maintenance and repair including the stockpiling of replacement parts, and ensuring the proper regulations are in place for Harbor Patrol to cite or impound vessels docked at pump-out station docks for unreasonable periods of time. For more information read our 2002 Harbor Pumpout Survey.


Coastkeeper plans on revisiting Orange County’s pump-out stations soon to determine whether Orange County Harbors have made any improvements since our 2002 report was released. Stay tuned for updates!

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