Clean Water Certification Program
The Clean Water Certification Program requires owners of boats with marine sanitation devices (MSDs) and owners of pump-out stations to obtain a decal, self-certifying that the MSD or pump-out station is operating properly to prevent the discharge of sewage into Texas waterways. The program is required under Texas law and is intended to protect and improve the quality of water in Texas.
- How do I obtain the Certification?
- Why is Boat Sewage a Problem?
- What does the Law say about the Discharge of Boat Sewage?
- How should I Properly Manage Boat Sewage?
- What can I Do to Help?
- Where can I Find a Pump-out Station?
- What should I Do if I See Someone Discharging Sewage?
- Where can I Find More Information?
How do I Obtain the Certification?
CERTIFY YOUR MSD ONLINE!
Boat owners should submit an online application to certify their Marine Sanitation Device (MSD). Go to www.tceq.texas.gov/goto/boat to access the online submission.
Once the online certification process is complete, it’s no longer necessary to mail or email a copy of the MSD application to the program area. Please allow at least 10 business days to receive decals by mail.
You can access the application forms through the following links.
MSD certification (TCEQ 00117)
- Initial fee is $15
- Renewal fee is $15
Boat Pump-out Station Certification (TCEQ 20540)
- Initial fee is $35
- Renewal fee is $25
Certifications expire on December 31 of every odd-calendar year.
The fee must be paid electronically using ePay, the TCEQ's online payment system. If for some reason you are unable to complete your registration using the ePay system, please contact us at 512-239-BOAT (2628) or CWCERT@tceq.texas.gov.
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
Program Support Section, MC 174
Attn: Clean Water Certification Program
P.O. Box 13088
Austin, TX 78711-3088
Why is Boat Sewage a Problem?
Most Texas waterways are either a source for public drinking water or are used for contact recreation, such as swimming. When boat sewage is discharged directly into the water, it can impact both human health and the environment.
- Boat sewage can introduce disease-causing microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, and protozoans) into the water.
- These microorganisms are vectors for diseases such as hepatitis A, gastroenteritis, giardia, cryptosporidium, typhoid and cholera.
- Boat sewage contains nutrients, such as nitrogen. These nutrients can be used by aquatic plants and algae to grow and spread in the form of blooms. These blooms can block the light needed by other aquatic life, creating an imbalance in the ecosystem. In addition, when the algae decays, it can deplete the waterbody of oxygen needed by aquatic organisms, resulting in fish kills.
- Along the coast, shellfish beds can be affected by bacteria that enter the water from boat sewage. The bacteria also consume oxygen which can deplete oxygen levels needed by aquatic organisms.
- Some chemicals that are used in MSDs to treat boat sewage, such as formaldehyde and chlorine, can be toxic to aquatic life.
When contaminant levels (bacteria, nutrients, etc.) are high, many swimming and fishing areas have to be closed or restricted. As a result, tourism and the ability to enjoy contact recreation on Texas waterways are negatively impacted.
What does the Law say about the Discharge of Boat Sewage?
- It is illegal to discharge untreated sewage anywhere in Texas waterways. Untreated sewage may not be discharged into Texas waterways until after the boat reaches at least three nautical miles into the Gulf of Mexico.
- Federal and state laws prohibit the discharge of both treated and untreated sewage into any no discharge zone (NDZ). A NDZ is an area of a waterbody or an entire waterbody into which the discharge of treated and untreated sewage from all boats is completely prohibited.
- All inland freshwater lakes and rivers are considered to be NDZs. Clear Lake is currently the only coastal NDZ in Texas.
How should I Properly Manage Boat Sewage?
- All boats with an installed toilet are required to have one of three types of United States Coast Guard approved MSDs. An MSD is any sanitation device for use on any boat, which is designed to receive, retain, treat, or dispose of sewage.
- Type I and II MSDs are flow-through systems that treat the sewage using chemical and mechanical methods before discharging the waste overboard.
- A type III MSD is a holding tank.
- While operating on an NDZ, boats with Type I and II MSDs must secure the MSD in a manner that prevents the discharge of sewage while the boat is located on the NDZ. This can be done by closing the Y-valve and installing a padlock or wire-tie to prevent the automatic discharge of treated sewage.
- Boat sewage should be properly disposed of by using a pump-out station.
- Boats with Type I and II MSDs may discharge treated effluent in coastal waters unless the coastal waterbody is designated as an NDZ. Clear Lake is currently the only coastal NDZ in Texas.
What can I Do to Help?
No one wants to fish or take a swim where they know boat sewage is being discharged. Properly managing sewage from boats can be accomplished by following these simple tips:
- Use restrooms on shore.
- Establish a regular maintenance schedule for your MSD based on the manufacturer's recommendations.
- Dispose of sewage waste properly at a pump-out station.
- Pump out and rinse holding tanks regularly.
- Properly maintain your boat toilet.
Where can I Find a Pump-out Station?
For a list of certified pump-out stations, check out the Pump-out Guide for Boats developed by the Texas Sea Grant College Program.
If you have reason to believe that someone is discharging boat sewage illegally into Texas waters, you can file a complaint with your local TCEQ region office. For more information on filing a complaint with TCEQ, please visit:
Texas law also authorizes any Texas Game Warden or certified marine safety enforcement officer to enforce the rules of the Clean Water Certification Program. To report a violation, contact Operation Game Thief at 1-800-792-4263.
Violations of the Clean Water Certification Program can be enforced under the Texas Water Code, with administrative penalities of up to $25,000 per day, as well as under the Texas Parks and Wildlife Code, in which the violator faces a Class C misdemeanor charge and fines of up to $500.
Where can I Find More Information?
Please send questions to CWCERT@tceq.texas.gov or contact us at 512-239-BOAT (2628).
- 30 Texas Administrative Code Chapter 321, Subchapter A - Boat Sewage Disposal
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Texas Parks and Wildlife - Operation Game Thief Program
- Environmental Protection Agency - Vessel Sewage Discharges
- Marine Sanitation Devices - Coast Guard Categories
- Clean Texas Marina Program
- Texas Sea Grant College Program
- Galveston Bay Foundation - How to Pump out your Vessel