If Harbor Patrol deputies board your boat in Newport Harbor and ask to see the restroom, don't be offended. They're just doing their job.
When the Orange County Sheriff's Harbor Patrol contracted with Newport Beach to continue overseeing the harbor's 1,200 or so moorings, they also took on a new task: checking the plumbing.
In the next 60 to 90 days, the Harbor Patrol will roll out a new dye tab program, where deputies drop a tab of a colored dye into the toilet and flush. They then watch the harbor water around the boat to see if any of the dye appears. If the water surrounding the vessel changes color, that signals a leak in the plumbing, which means that the boat is polluting the water.
Authorities in Avalon Harbor on Catalina Island employ a similar program to catch polluters.
Harbor Patrol deputies will initially check harbor visitors who have to rent a mooring, slip or boats that drop anchor near the main channel.
"Transient boats can come from different harbors, maybe not even within this country," said Harbormaster Lt. Mark Long. "They may not be familiar with the no-discharge requirements here."
Officials are shaping their enforcement policy and which types of dyes to use for Newport's waters, Long said. Down the line, the program is expected to cover visitors and locals alike, city officials said.
"When dealing with boats moored on private docks, that's where Harbor Resources have to be more in touch," Long said. "People are going to be hard-pressed to oppose an effort to prevent discharge. I don't think you'll get a lot of people who are against that."
"Historically, this hasn't been done," said Harbor Resources Manager Chris Miller. "We're all on board and happy the Harbor Patrol is doing it. Everybody has to go to the office anyway to rent a mooring."