Fecal Matters: The Sierra’s Poo-llution Problem

Let’s talk about poop, dog poop that is. Un-scooped poop on trails, in neighborhoods, in yards, and even on the sidewalk is, for many, the number one complaint about dogs and dog owners. Many of the Sierra Nevada’s trails are littered with piles of dog waste that need to be navigated through. If not looking down for the majority of a hike one is bound to be scraping the poo from their shoe. This problem is prevalent in the Sierra as well as in cities and towns around the world. Surveys show that only 60 percent of dog owners pick up their dog’s droppings and the other 40 percent don’t pick up for a multitude of reasons: “it’s natural”, owners don’t have a bag, or don’t want to carry it with them, or because it is not a law.

COMM Blog OH Image2 2014Though dog poop is a natural discharge it is still harmful to the environment and our waterways. Dog waste is so harmful to the environment that in 1991 the EPA listed it as a non-point source environmental pollutant and studies have shown that it is the third most toxic contaminant in waterways. Dog waste gets into waterways through rain or snow-melt runoff. It creates optimal breeding grounds for algae and weeds that create anoxic conditions (without or with very little dissolved oxygen) which are unhealthy for species living in it and can result in asphyxiation of fish and shellfish. Along with creating anoxic environments, on the human side most wastewater treatment facilities are not designed to filter the pathogens in dog waste.

In recent studies, researchers found that 20-30 percent of bacteria in water samples can be traced back to dog waste. That’s dog waste carrying an abundance of disease; a single gram of dog waste can contain an estimated 23 million bacteria. Bacteria like: Campylobacteriosis, Salmonellosis, Toxocarisis, Coccidia, Cysticerosis, E.coli, Giardia, and Parvo. Not to mention lots of fun parasitic worms—tapeworm, roundworm, whipworm, and hookworm. That’s a lot of disease going into our waterways, like the Truckee River, Yuba River, and Lake Tahoe—just a few of the thousands of lakes and rivers in the 12 major watersheds of the Sierra Nevada—that provide water to over 23 million Californians. Not only does dog waste pollute our waterways, but it costs the state and local governments more money to clean up and treat those waterways. Money that could likely be spent somewhere else if we protected our waterways by starting with picking up our pet’s waste.

Unlike trying to control the weather we can control our region’s water quality by protecting it from our pet’s waste. Here are a few ways we can help:
* Always have a bag or carry extra ones (there are biodegradable bags available since the plastic bag ban has made plastic ones hard to come by)
* Use the bags that are provided for dog owners at trailheads (at some trails, neighbors even provide the bags and pay for the garbage service) and parks
* Hire a scooping company (Services that already exist in Reno and the Bay Area), or start a neighborhood campaign to encourage responsible behavior.

Individuals aren’t the only ones taking action; cities around the world are taking creative approaches to the dog waste problem. Starting locally in California, San Luis Obispo County launched a public awareness campaign to prevent waterway pollution from dog waste. The campaign consists of signs informing owners to pick up their pet’s waste and brightly colored flags marking each pile left behind. In Madrid, Spain the government has taken to a unique way of dealing with the poop issue by mailing the waste to the dog’s owner. Another unconventional approach, Bristol, England features signs of toddlers picking up dog doo and smearing it all over themselves and even eating it. There is even a Facebook page dedicated to the shaming of dog owners who do not pick up their pet’s waste.

We shouldn’t have to resort to these measures—amusing as they may be. We should pick up after our pets because we can all appreciate the beauty and abundance of Sierra Nevada trails, because we care for the quality of water we drink and use, because we respect our neighbors and neighborhoods, and because we love our furry companions. That’s why we should scoop the poop. Together, we can stop the poo-llution!