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[caption id="attachment_37866" align="alignright" width="230" caption="The KKMI boatyard in Sausalito has achieved an EPA benchmark for low copper discharge into the bay"][/caption]

NORTH BAY – Yacht harbors and boatyards are gearing up for an influx of visiting pleasure craft as the America’s Cup race approaches, but increased business will also result in more awareness of the environmental quality of the water in the bay from both boaters and boatyards.

Spurred on by the founders of Sausalito’s KKMI boat building and repair operation, the Environmental Protection Agency and Regional Water Quality Control Board are urging boatyards to clean up before a surge of waterfront activity releases potentially higher levels of copper, zinc and lead into the water.

“I read through the Environmental Impact Report hoping to see the issue addressed,” said KKMI co-founder Paul Kaplan. “It’s an amazing document, considering the scope of possible impacts."

The group called the California Coastalkeeper Alliance claims that out of the 20 or so boat building and repair shops around the bay at least 14 are not fully compliant with the Clean Water Act.

Relative to heavy industry, boatyards are not as great a source of toxins. But copper paint used to preserve boat bottoms from erosion and pests, followed by zinc used to protect metal fittings from rust, and lead, which is usually well-contained as ballast.

Water used to power-wash boat hulls prior to repainting must be treated, usually by an electro coagulation system, which uses a low voltage current in a saline solution to cause contaminants to become separated from the process water. This water is then either recycled or discharged into the municipal sewer.

But sanding the hulls before painting can release particulate matter into the air and eventually it’s swept into the water during rainstorms.

The Clean Water Act requires users of these metals to monitor and submit documents showing the amount entering the waterway via storm runoff on a yearly basis.  But not enough monitoring occurs, according to Mr. Kaplan.

“There are approximately 1,400 industrial permits issued by the Water Board, and fewer than five inspectors to police the users,” said Mr. Kaplan. “The annual paperwork can run to half an inch thick, but who reads it?”

Mr. Kaplan, when he began to monitor copper at his cleaned-up Sausalito operation, couldn’t find a reading for comparison purposes, although the site had been used for boat building and repair for many years.

His successful efforts to contain and filter storm water at the Sausalito KKMI facility achieved a copper reading of 0.063 milligrams parts per liter, meeting the EPA’s benchmark and making the operation one-of-a-kind in the Bay Area.

Meanwhile, Europeans are using non-copper anti-fouling paints, just catching on in this country. They’re comparable in price although they must be applied more often, said Mr. Kaplan.

Vacuum sanders are improving and can be very effective in containing particles.

Most boaters are passionate about the water they sail on and will go the distance to keep it clean, said Mr. Kaplan.

Failing that, there’s the threat of big fines once the EPA turns its attention to smaller polluters: up to $33,500 a day, compounded.

“Why pay lawyers and teams of environmental consultants to defend your non-complying ways, when you can just comply now for a fraction of the cost? We did it here in Sausalito in the pit of a recession,” he said.

“If we can do it, anyone can.”