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Protect rivers, streams by picking up pet waste

9/27/2012 - South Side Leader
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By Sandy Barbic

By Sandy Barbic

You may be wondering how the pet waste from your little “Fluffy” can possibly affect water quality. The answer is that it doesn’t matter if your pet is large or small — all pet waste contributes to water pollution if it is not cleaned up.

When it rains, pet waste that has been left on lawns, trails, sidewalks or streets flows over these hard surfaces and washes into storm drains. The waste, along with the bacteria and other pollutants that it carries, flows with the untreated storm water directly into ditches, streams, ponds, lakes and rivers. Once it enters a water body, the animal waste starts to decompose, using the dissolved oxygen in the water. Eventually, the oxygen supply that the fish and other aquatic organisms need to live is depleted and they cannot survive. The nutrients, including nitrogen, contained in pet waste act like a fertilizer and contribute to exaggerated algae growth, creating algae blooms. When the algae blooms decompose, their decomposers use up even more oxygen. Sometimes the algae itself can be harmful to humans and animals. Pet waste contains harmful organisms such as Giardia, Salmonella and E. coli, which contribute to the high bacteria levels that make rivers unsafe for swimming and fishing. These bacteria cause intestinal diseases marked by stomach cramps and diarrhea and are easily transmitted to humans and other animals through contaminated water, soil and food.

One small dog produces about 0.75 pound of waste containing 7.825 billion bacteria daily! According to a recent estimate, there are approximately 145,000 dogs living in Summit County. You can see the tremendous impact that pet waste can have on water quality if it is not addressed.

In addition, when pet waste is not disposed of properly, your health may be at risk, too. Pet waste is not only smelly and unsightly. It can make people and other animals sick. Adults working in their gardens, children playing outside, family pets and wildlife are all in danger of being infected from the bacteria and parasites found in pet waste.

We can all help to solve this pet waste problem by following these simple guidelines:

• Try to clean up pet waste in your yard daily. If you can’t clean up on a regular basis, at least pick it up when there is rain in the forecast.

• Consider buying a handy pooper-scooper to make the pickup easier.

• Pick up waste when walking your dog. Carry bags with you or tie one or two onto your dog’s leash. (The best bags to use are biodegradable bags, which can be purchased at pet stores.) Bag the waste and put it in the trash, either in a public receptacle or in your own trash when you get home. Make sure the bag is tied shut to seal it.

Sandy Barbic is an education specialist with the Summit County Soil and Water Conservation District.

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