Dog doo-doo fouling waterways

By Clara Vaughn, Capital News Service

When you fail to pick up after your pooch, you may be doing more than irking the next-door neighbors.

Studies conducted over more than a decade in watersheds across the state have found that pets produce up to one-third of bacterial pollution in waterways near developed areas. That’s right. Dog poop is the source of startling amounts of E. coli, Giardia, salmonella and other microscopic pathogens in local waters.

In extreme cases, 68 percent of bacterial pollution in the Severn River watershed of Maryland has been recorded as coming from pet waste. And a whopping 87 percent of bacterial pollution in the Magothy River’s Forked Creek tributary has been traced back to pets.

The findings come from more than 50 studies by the Maryland Department of the Environment and Salisbury University tracking waterborne bacteria back to its sources. Acting as poop sleuths, scientists have been able to determine whether waste came from humans, livestock, wildlife or pets based on a bacteria’s unique patterns of resistance to antibiotics.

That’s because different antibiotics are used to treat people and various animals, said Mark Frana, professor of biology at Salisbury University, who has been involved with the studies since 1999.

“If fecal material gets into water systems, there’s an increased risk to human health,” Frana said.

In addition to carrying a host of disease-causing bacteria and parasites, untreated doggy doo is rich in nutrients that foster algae blooms and contribute to oxygen-depleted dead zones downstream, including the Chesapeake Bay.

So why don’t more people bag their dogs’ bunk? A 1999 study by the Center for Watershed Protection found that 41 percent of bay-area dog-owners rarely or never pick up after their pets.

Most people simply don’t make the connection between pet waste and water quality, said Suzanne Etgen, Watershed Stewards Academy Coordinator at the Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center.

Etgen recently taught a Watersheds Steward Academy class on behavior change where she had her students survey their communities to find out why people don’t pick up after their dogs.

“Most people said that they do pick up their pet waste when they’re out in public, but not when the dogs are just in their backyard,” Etgen said. “People don’t really perceive that it’s that important when it’s just ‘poop in the woods.'”

But that waste is carried downstream during rainstorms and enters waterways as runoff or through storm drains. The influx of untreated dog logs contributes to spikes in overall bacteria after rainfall, often causing recreational areas to close.

After rainfall, all Anne Arundel County beaches are under a no swimming or water contact advisory for two days due to high bacteria levels.

“Wherever that waste lands, there’s a potential for it getting into water systems,” Frana said.

People like Carolyn Ricketts, a master watershed steward and graduate of the Chesapeake Bay Voices Program, are working to raise awareness of the problem of dogs’ unbagged bits in their local communities.

“Most people are not aware that pet feces contain such a high level of pathogens – bacteria that are not being treated. And it does impact our water systems, and eventually the Chesapeake Bay,” Ricketts said.

She and several other graduates of Etgen’s course are circulating flyers outlining the health risks of dog waste in Annapolis.

Waste disposal stations equipped with bags for picking up your pooch’s piles are also in the works, as is a mobile phone app mapping their locations in the city.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About author

This article was written by admin


Comments (14)
  1. Tom Wendell says - Posted: November 11, 2012

    Dog poop and all the problems that go with it is not only a smelly, bacteria-laden nuisance, it’s a potential energy source…IF….people are willing to take responsibility for their pets. So far, this has not been the case here or in many other parts of the country and indeed the developed world as reported in the above and following articles:

    As dog parks become more popular, the ability to demonstrate how pet waste can be gathered and harnessed for energy also expands as the following video illustrates:

    It’s not just small operations that are interested in the benefits of biogas. 6,500 tons of dog poop is produced in the San Francisco Bay Area every year. Rather than view this waste as a problem, San Francisco’s waste management contractor, Norcal Waste, saw this as an opportunity for the already environmental city to go a bit greener. Since January 2006, Norcal has been collecting dog feces throughout the city and now has dog-waste collection carts with biodegradable bags set up in Duboce Park, one of city’s most popular dog parks.

    This snippet from a July 2012 article in The Huffington Post names some big names who are also utilizing biogas :

    Animal poo converted into biogas is helping power the Munich Zoo. Carrying poo power one step further, in Bristol, UK — Volkswagen recently debuted a prototype called Bio-Bug — a VW Beetle that efficiently runs on processed sewage. Seventy households’ worth of human waste will power the odorless Bio-Bug for a year or 10,000 miles.
    Google has partnered with Duke University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in developing a hog waste biogas recovery plant. And Apple has recently filed an application to build a 5MW biogas plant in Maiden, North Carolina — the largest so far anywhere in the nation. We have firmly entered the Age of Energy Transformation: Entrepreneurs and corporations are now turning waste into green energy and creating jobs.

    So all you dog owners out there who think it’s o.k. or “natural” to simply leave your pets waste where ever it’s deposited—think again. Not only is it disgusting to encounter these piles of putrefying puppy poop on streets, trails and in meadows, it poses a biological hazard to our once pristine lakes, creeks and streams…and us. Do you really think that all the near-shore algae blooms and sometimes brownish water aren’t at all related to your dogs droppings?

  2. Tom Wendell says - Posted: November 11, 2012

    It would be a shame if this article disappeared off the radar screen before all the folks out ‘walking’ their dogs on this fine afternoon had a chance to read it and absorb its’ importance……

    p.s. Thank’s to those few of you who do pick up your dogs doo

  3. Biggerpicture says - Posted: November 11, 2012

    Mr. Wendell, I think you would be surprised to find that more dog owners than you might think are cognizant of picking up after their dogs. Do all dog owners follow this rule, absolutely not! But I personally am happy with the percentage of people that DO take responsibility for their pet’s droppings, and especially the fact that the number of those folks are on the rise, and will continue to be so as more and more folks become educated as to this practice.

    Now if we could get some entity OR deity to take responsibility for the damn goose poop everywhere throughout our town!

  4. dryclean says - Posted: November 11, 2012

    Tom, the problem is that the average person does not care. They really don’t. Most people only care about what affects them. Especially here in Tahoe. Ego Magazine just voted us the most selfish, self-centered people in California in day to day life. Right before Beverly Hills.

  5. Julie Threewit says - Posted: November 12, 2012

    dryclean .. as a yoga teacher once said, stay on your own mat. What exactly is the average person and how is it that you know what they all care about?

    It’s good that you care and can help individuals that need to learn to be more responsible. Hope to see you out there with your poop scoop!

  6. Steve says - Posted: November 12, 2012

    The question begs, can this stuff be buried in place with no adverse effect but instead with net positive impact due to its fertilizing capacity.

  7. Diana Hamilton says - Posted: November 12, 2012

    I’m concerned about the “people poop” from those who live outside in Trout Creek Meadow south of Highway 50, and the area to the north west of Meeks.

  8. Irish Wahini says - Posted: November 12, 2012

    The amount of dog-poop on the service road off of Lodi, that leads to the Upper Truckee River, is so disgusting during the winter snow season. Anyone going for a walk in the beautiful area is likely to find a land-mine. I wish there was a bag-dispenser there at the gate, and a can for deposits (like they have at Kiva Beach), with a note “please pick up your dog poop”. Kids go sledding there, and people snow-shoe & xc ski. Maybe SLT Refuse could donate a “station”.

    It is true that so many people think this beautiful country is their dog’s toilet. Rude…

  9. Bob says - Posted: November 12, 2012

    Heh Dryclean – I guess Beverly Hills sticks their nose up with more class than here. LOL

  10. local girl says - Posted: November 12, 2012

    Kiva beach has at least 100 visible pilesof dog loop along the trail to the beach by late summer and the leash law is routinely broken/ignored.

  11. Tom Wendell says - Posted: November 12, 2012

    Thank you all for posting about this pervasive (and getting worse…not better) problem. The percentage of dog owners who pick up after their pets and actually take it with them is pitifully low. Sorry BiggerPicture, I disagree with your assessment and I routinely thank those who pick-up when I see it. I recently took a short hike around Lilly Lake and a short way up Glen Alpine and there were several little blue bags of dog crap left in conspicuous spots. One RIGHT NEXT TO THE LAKE and another dangling from a tree branch. DISGUSTING.

    Until there is enough social pressure brought to bear on these self-centered polluters (yes…..polluters), the problem will only escalate. I think the biogas stations are a good tool to help educate dog owners about the issue. Unless this behavior changes, I predict that there will be more regulation on dogs in the basin and I don’t think any one wants yet another layer of regulation. So please, if you are a dog owner or have friends with dogs, take heed of this information because as soon as someone connects pathogens in the lake or it’s feeders to dog feces, the hammer will come down.

  12. Biggerpicture says - Posted: November 13, 2012

    Mr. Wendall, so let me see if I get this straight. Beyond 10 or so years back NOBODY picked up after their dogs. And now more and more folks ARE picking up after their dogs. Wouldn’t that equate to SOME improvement? Or in your estimation, before ten years ago, was there exponentially less dogs here in the basin? Our population here on the South Shore has declined over the past twenty years so I think that is probably not the case.

    I was jut pointing out the half full cup, and you seem to enjoy the empty half of the cup. My point was that more and more folks are becoming enlightened to this practice, and with more POSITIVE education that trend will continue. Will the problem ever be completely resolved? Probably not, but some is better than none!

    P.S. You must have a much better view of our world than the rest of us sitting up there in the saddle of your high horse.

  13. lou pierini says - Posted: November 13, 2012

    The cup is too big.

  14. Tom Wendell says - Posted: November 13, 2012


    Did you actually read the entire article and follow the links I provided in my first post? This problem is widespread throughout the developed world and it’s getting worse. If you’ve read my many posts over the months, you’d see that I’m a glass half full kinda’ guy….but when I encounter serious problems, I will not sugar coat them-just lay it out and offer possible solutions. I generally agree with your many posts and I’m guessing that you might be a responsible dog owner who is miffed that most posters agree with me on this issue.

    My view is decidedly not from the saddle of a high horse but from numerous other vantage points.: city streets, meadows, hiking/biking/XC/ snow shoeing trails and my own front and back yards. My house abuts a meadow and my street offers access to that meadow. For decades I’ve been observing the daily parade of dog walkers from mine and surrounding streets as they allow their pooches to crap in peoples yards, on the street and in the meadow and retention basins. Despite a falling human population, this parade has grown.

    More people bring their pets with them on vacation (part of the reason for the popularity of vacation homes rentals). I suspect that many of these visitors, as well as the crop-du’jour of young, seasonal renters came from urban areas like San Francisco where there is more social pressure to pick up Bowsers brownies. Once they get here, I suspect that their behavior changes. They may be reasoning; “’s in the woods and no one is looking.” Despite the presence of mutt mitt stations at most meadow access points, they are routinely ignored.

    Changing human behavior is the crux of this issue. Humans are historically resistant to change as we like to settle into our comfort zones. Whether it’s picking up Totos’s turds or bringing our own shopping bags to buy groceries etc., these changes are coming to our hamlet. We need to embrace this change as we are privileged to live in this sanctuary of nature.