Dog Poop and Drinking Water

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There are many good reasons to pick up after your dog.  It’s not only responsible and considerate, but it’s required by local law in many cities; if more people picked up after their dogs, more places would be dog-friendly; dog waste can spread disease to people and other dogs; and it’s really just icky to leave dog poop for someone to step in.

But did you know that dog poop has a significant impact on water quality in our streams, rivers, bays, and oceans, and poses a threat to public health?  People fish and swim in these waters, and in many places, those streams and rivers are the source of public drinking water.  Dog waste significantly contributes to water pollution, yet many people who are otherwise environmentally-conscious don’t pick up their dog’s waste.  In fact, surveys have shown that 40% of dog owners don’t pick up after their dogs.

Rain washes dog waste into storm sewers, ditches, streams, lakes, rivers, and oceans.  Many storm sewers and ditches flow directly into local waters.  Dog waste contains bacteria, viruses, and parasites which can make humans sick and can lead to closures of beaches and rivers to swimming and fishing.  Dog waste also contains nitrogen and phosphorus, which can cause harmful algae blooms and resulting fish kills.

“But it’s natural”

Waste from wild animals occurs naturally, but dog poop does not.  Dog populations in cities, suburbs, and parks are generally much larger and more concentrated than wildlife populations, so their waste has a much greater impact on local waters.  Dog waste is also more likely to make people sick, because it contains a much greater concentration of fecal coliform bacteria per gram than that of most other animals.  A gram of dog feces contains 23 million fecal coliform bacteria – ten times that of a gram of cow manure.  And a pile of dog waste can take a year or more to fully decompose.

So What Should I Do With It?

First of all, pick it up.  For most dog owners, plastic bags are the preferred method.  You can buy poop bags, or you can reuse grocery or newspaper bags.  If reusing a plastic bag, make sure it’s sturdy and hole-free.  Make a habit of always carrying bags with you by tying or clipping them on your dog’s leash.  Carry extras.  If you don’t have a bag, go get one and come back.

To dispose of dog poop, the Natural Resources Defense Counsel recommends placing it in the trash, flushing it down the toilet, placing it in an underground pet waste digester, burying it in your yard (6-12 inches deep and away from gardens), or hiring a poop collection service.  Don’t compost it – compost doesn’t get hot enough to kill bacteria – and don’t use it as fertilizer.  If you flush it down the toilet, empty the bag into the toilet – do not flush the bag.   Even bags which are claimed to be flushable can clog plumbing and cause problems at the sewage treatment plant.

The easiest method of poop disposal is placing it in the trash.  After trash pick-up, it either goes to a waste-to-energy facility or a landfill.  Modern landfills have liners to ensure that waste doesn’t seep out and contaminate local waters.  According to the Tampa Estuary Program Pooches for the Planet, “bagging your dog’s poop and putting it in a trash can is ALWAYS a better choice than leaving it on the ground.”

It’s a pain to step in a pile of dog poop, but it’s far worse to be swimming in it or drinking it.  But it’s SO easy just to pick it up.

Rebecca Randolph is a blogger, writer, artist, and attorney, but most importantly, a dog mom. She also assists her lab Garth with his blog The World According to Garth Riley (www.TWAGR.com).

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