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Our Gem: Avoid stormwater poo-llution

| March 20, 2022 1:00 AM

Spring showers are quickly washing away the snow that has lingered since the beginning of the year. As snow recedes, many long-buried treasures are revealed like that one soggy glove you’ve been looking for all winter, but the most frustrating remnant of winter snowmelt is something that pollutes our waters with bacteria and nutrients. Waterlogged dog poop now emerges from melted snow piles along our streets, sidewalks, lawns, parks, and anywhere Fido decided to do his business, making it a stormwater pollutant. Disposing of doggy do-do is very important because there is no Poop Fairy.

Studies have shown that up to 40% of Americans do not pick up their dog’s feces. And according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, Idaho has the highest rate of dog ownership in the U.S. with 1.7 dogs per household. That’s a lot of poop! Dog waste left by irresponsible dog owners doesn’t just go away, it gets washed down the storm drain and into Coeur d’Alene Lake and the Spokane River unfiltered.

Dog poop is considered a significant source of pathogens. Dog waste has four to ten times more bacteria than human waste. A single gram of dog waste can contain 23 million fecal coliform bacteria and potentially even parasites. Parasite eggs dispersed from feces can survive for years in outdoor areas. These pathogens can be passed on to other dogs or humans and gets washed into lakes and rivers where people swim. Bacterial source tracking studies in the Seattle area found that 20% of the bacteria contaminating waterways were traced back to dogs.

Unlike wild animals that consume resources from their ecosystem, dogs are fed nutrient-heavy pet foods designed to give them a complete and healthy diet. Because dog food is extremely nutrient-rich, dog waste contains a high level of phosphorus and nitrogen. A single pile of pet waste will continue to release nutrients every time it rains, until it’s all flushed away. These nutrients contribute to algae and nuisance aquatic weed growth, causing low oxygen in the water that can affect fish and aquatic life. Nutrient pollution can also cause the waters to become cloudy making it unattractive for swimming, boating and fishing. In urban areas, pet waste and fertilizers are among the top sources of nutrients in stormwater.

Help protect Our Gem, Coeur d’Alene Lake, by scooping the poop. Carry disposable bags and pick up after your pet on walks. Properly dispose of bagged pet waste by depositing it in trash cans. Please pick up pet waste from your yard regularly. Please do not throw bagged pet waste in storm drains, leave it on the ground or toss it in the woods. Avoid allowing your dog to do his/her business within 200 feet of a water body. You can also bury it in a 12-inch-deep hole at least 200 feet from a water source and ideally away from an edible garden. Pet waste is a common pollutant that contributes to water quality problems and is one that each of us can easily help correct. Scoop the poop because there is no Poop Fairy.

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The Our Gem Coeur d’Alene Lake Collaborative is a team of committed and passionate professionals working to preserve lake health and protect water quality by promoting community awareness of local water resources through education, outreach and stewardship. Our Gem includes local experts from the University of Idaho Community Water Resource Center, Coeur d’Alene Tribe, Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, Kootenai Environmental Alliance, Coeur d’Alene Regional Chamber of Commerce, and CDA 2030.

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Photo by M. SCHMIDT

Dogs and water go hand in hand, but poop and stormwater do not. Clean up after your pets!