What’s the Scoop on Pet Waste and Water Quality?
It’s first thing in the morning and the dog wants to go out right NOW, the cats are standing by their litter box waiting for some fresh kitty litter, and your toddler is demanding a trip to the park to feed the ducks. While none of these activities may sound like a major threat to the environment, animal waste is one of the many little sources of pollution that can add up to big problems for water quality and may cause human health problems as well.
While most people connect animal waste problems to agriculture, studies have shown that pets, waterfowl and other urban wildlife waste can cause significant water pollution problems. Animal waste contains several types of pollutants that contribute to water quality problems: nutrients, pathogens and a naturally toxic material, ammonia. When animal waste ends up in a lake or stream it decomposes, using up oxygen and releasing its pollutant load.
During summer months when the water is warm, the combination of low oxygen levels and ammonia can kill fish and other aquatic organisms. The nutrients cause excessive growth of aquatic weeds and algae. When these conditions make the water murky green and smelly, or when the surface of the water is completely covered with a thick mat of vegetation, the area becomes unattractive or unusable or swimming, boating or fishing.Pathogens, the disease-causing bacteria and viruses associated with animal waste, can also make water unsafe for human use. If pathogens or the indicator bacteria associated with animal waste are found during water testing, shellfish beds may be closed to harvest, beaches may be closed to swimming and drinking water supplies may require expensive filtration or disinfection.
Fortunately, there are some simple practices everyone can do to help prevent pollution by keeping animal waste out of the water. While it may seem easier to ignore the problem of animal waste, remember that you are protecting not only the environment but also your own health.
Enjoy the parks, have a picnic, but don’t forget to pick up after your pet after a fun day at the park!