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Clean Water Certification for Boat Sewage

Texas has requirements for marine sanitation devices and boat pump-out stations. See how to obtain or renew certification, what the rules are, and how to report suspected illegal discharges.

What is the 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.

Upcoming Renewal Cycle - What you need to know!

  • Clean Water Certification decals for 2016-2017 will expire on December 31, 2017.
  • This includes both Boat Pump-out Station and Marine Sanitation Device (MSD) certifications.
  • Applications to renew for 2018-2019 will be accepted on November 5, 2017.
  • See How do I Obtain the Certification? for instructions on how to recertify your MSD or pump-out station.

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How do I Obtain the Certification?

Boat owners should submit an online application to certify their Marine Sanitation Device (MSD). Similarly, Boat Pump-out Station owners must submit an online application to certify their Boat Pump-out Station.

MSD Certification:
Initial fee is $15.00
Renewal fee is $15.00

Boat Pump-out Station Certification:
Initial fee is $35.00
Renewal fee is $25.00

Replacement Decals are $2.00 each

Certifications expire on December 31 of every odd-calendar year.

Certifying is an easy two-step process! Access the online application to certify your MSD or Boat Pump-out Station. After completing the application, you will be prompted for payment using ePay, the TCEQ's online payment system. Please allow at least 10 business days to receive your decal by mail.

By law, all applications and payments must be submitted electronically. Any paper applications or payments received by the TCEQ will not be accepted. If you are unable to comply with this requirement you may request a waiver from TCEQ by calling 512-239-0400 or by emailing CWCERT@tceq.texas.gov.

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General Information.

  • 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 a No Discharge Zone (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. For a list of certified pump-out stations, check out the Pump-out Guide for Boats Adobe Acrobat PDF Document developed by the Texas Sea Grant College Program.
  • Please Note: All houseboats are required to have a Type III MSD.

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Am I required to get a Clean Water Certification decal?

If your boat has an MSD and is located on any Texas waterway, you are required to obtain the Clean Water Certification decal. Texas waterways include all inland freshwater lakes, rivers, tidally influenced waterbodies, and coastal areas out to three nautical miles into the Gulf of Mexico.

Similarly, owners of Boat Pump-out Stations operated on or adjacent to surface water in Texas must obtain the Clean Water Certification decal.

Boat and Boat Pump-out Station owners must maintain this certification.

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What happens if I Sell my Boat?

Boats are constantly changing ownership. If you sell your boat, the certification decals are transferrable and remain valid with the new owner. The new owner is advised to contact the TCEQ at 512-239-2628 or CWCERT@tceq.texas.gov to update owner/contact information.

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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.

Health Risks

  • 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.

Environmental Problems

  • 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.

Economic Problems

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.

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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). An 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.

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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.

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What should I Do if I See Someone Discharging Sewage?

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:

Reporting Complaints to TCEQ

Citizen Collected Evidence

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 Exit the TCEQ at 1-800-792-4263.

Violations of the Clean Water Certification Program can be enforced under the Texas Water Code, with administrative penalties 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.

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Where can I Find More Information?

Please send questions to CWCERT@tceq.texas.gov or contact us at 512-239-BOAT (2628).

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