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Virginia's No Discharge Zone Program

About No Discharge Zones

The Clean Water Act (CWA) prohibits dumping untreated sewage anywhere in United States navigable waters including the territorial seas. Human waste from boating activities must either be stored for land-based disposal, or treated prior to discharge with a Marine Sanitation Device that is certified by the U.S. Coast Guard as meeting treatment standards set by the U.S. EPA. These treatment standards are designed to minimize visible floating solids and to significantly reduce (but not eliminate) the concentration of fecal coliform bacteria and any other pathogens potentially associated with human waste.  These standards do not provide for the reduction of nutrient levels (such as nitrogen and phosphorus) or treatment of other organic material.

For waters that need greater environmental protection from vessel sewage discharges, the Clean Water Act provides states the opportunity to petition EPA for a special designation - one that bans the discharge of any human sewage, whether or not it is treated according to EPA standards. Waters that receive this designation are called No Discharge Zones (NDZs). To secure this designation for a given water body, the state must demonstrate a) the need for special protection, b) the availability of alternatives to overboard discharge (i.e., pump-outs), and c) local stakeholder support.

Shellfish Waters - Worthy of Special Protection

Virginia is the beneficiary of the bountiful natural resources of the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries. Among those resources are the Bay's oysters, which have sustained human populations for thousands of years, and remain a highly desirable food for commercial and recreational harvest, as well as for aquaculture. Oysters are filter feeders, meaning they strain large volumes water to obtain the tiny plankton that they consume. Unfortunately, this behavior also leads to the concentration, in the oyster's gut, of any bacteria and pathogens which may be present in the water. For this reason, the state water quality standard for bacteria in waters capable of propagating shellfish is extremely rigorous - the criterion for mean fecal bacteria concentration in such areas is less than one-tenth the concentration considered safe for swimming.  Nearly ninety-thousand acres of Virginia water are closed or restricted for shellfish consumption due to unacceptably high concentrations of fecal bacteria. Predictably, these areas are typically small tidal tributaries that are less subject to the natural, twice-a-day tidal 'flushing' that occurs in the Bay mainstem or larger tributaries.  In most cases, the exact causes of the contamination are unknown. Commonly implicated sources include improperly functioning land-based septic/sewer systems, livestock, pets and wildlife, and boats and marinas.

No Discharge Zones in Virginia

Recognizing the need to minimize the potential for contamination from any and all sources in these sensitive areas, the Virginia General Assembly unanimously passed House Bill 1774 in February, 2009. The Bill resolved that Virginia pursue NDZ designation for all its tidal creeks. In 2011, the Virginia General Assembly passed House Bill 1943 and clarified that NDZ designation is premised on the improvement of impaired tidal creeks. NDZs are one component of watershed clean-up plans, or TMDL implementation plans, designated to address all sources. Most marina operators are already required by law to provide for the land-based disposal of boat waste. DEQ and the state strongly encourage public input during the development of clean-up plans and NDZ applications.

Virginia's No Discharge Zone Applications and Designations

Applications for Federal No Discharge Zone Designations

Bodies of Water Affected


End of Public Comment Period

Submittal Date

  Gloucester  August 26, 2016  






Lancaster County



Richmond County



Approved Federal No Discharge Zone Designations

Bodies of Water Affected
Comment Documents
Approval Date

Smith Mountain Lake

Bedford, Franklin, Pittsylvania Counties



Lynnhaven River

City of Virginia Beach



Broad and Jackson Creeks and Fishing Bay

Middlesex County




For More Information

For more information on No Discharge Zones:

The Code of Virginia, § 62.1-44.33. Board to adopt regulations; tidal waters no discharge zones.:

The Virginia Administrative Code, Chapter 71. Regulations Governing the Discharge of Sewage and Other Wastes from Boats:

For information on the application process in Virginia:  TMDL Guidance Page

For information on pump-out availability in Virginia:

To see how no discharge zones contributed to improved water quality in Virginia Beach:

To report a non-functioning pump-out, call Preston Smith, Virginia Department of Health, 804/864-7468.

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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000

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