Please, Pick Up Your Dog's Poop To Protect Our Watersheds

Nov 28, 2018

Charlie the dog after a long walk and a quick dip.

Americans love dogs.  We love them to the tune of $61 billion a year, according to the US Labor Department.  Despite all the love, our four-legged friends can be hard on parks and on the environment, particularly when their humans don’t manage them properly.

Proper management of dog waste is crucial for maintaining healthy water systems, and contamination has been shown to increase levels of harmful bacteria in some cases.  

Water that is used for drinking and bathing is tested regularly in all Utah cities for potentially harmful contaminants, including e. coli, which is found in human and dog waste.  Reports are released annually and are available from city public works departments.

Paul Lindhardt, public works director for Logan City explains that the source of water plays an important role in how sensitive it is to contamination.

“For Logan City all of our sources of [drinking] water are ground-water.  We have a spring and we have deep wells.  The only process it really goes through is we pump it or collect it, and then we treat it with chlorine and then it goes into the distribution system,” he said.

However, some municipal water sources in Utah, including Salt Lake City, come from surface water which is more vulnerable to contamination. 

“We have very robust watershed protections in place for these watersheds and that is our first approach is just keeping that pollutant out of the water,”

Here’s Marion Rice, the Salt Lake City Water Quality Treatment Administrator.

Laura Briefer, the director of public works in Salt Lake City, explained further how water is protected from contamination in the city.

“We restrict domestic animals within some of our key watersheds.  Dogs are one item that we do restrict more vigorously just because there are so many of them and they could easily overwhelm the system if they were permitted,”

Snowmelt water feeds this system, and the water is cleaned and monitored for contamination.

However, storm-water and secondary water are not always monitored for contamination.  These are the water sources used for lawns and agriculture.  They are composed of snow-melt and rainwater that runs across the ground into streams and canals.  In Cache County, this water is directed, untested and untreated, into the Cutler Reservoir, though this will change soon.

Paul Lindhardt again.

“We have a storm-water management plan.  We are starting, as part of our management plan and our permit with the state, a testing of the storm-water because we want to know how its influence will test before Logan City and after Logan City,”

Marrion Rice explained that storm-water testing has been conducted regularly in Salt Lake City for some time.

“The EPA has different regulations for different sizes of cities.  We’re a big city of over 100,000, so we’re considered a phase-one.  So the city has been doing this since the 90s, starting to look at stormwater.”

The storm-water management plans for Logan and Salt Lake City are available on the city public works websites.  Most other cities in Utah also have storm-water management plans available, or will soon.

The ultimate solution to dog feces in natural water systems, says Laura Briefer, is simple.  Pet owners need to clean up after their dogs.

“About four out of 10 US households have at least one dog, and about four out of 10 of those owners don’t pick up after their dogs.  There is a cumulative impact.”

Mistreatment of water sources can actually get so bad that the water has to be rejected for use by humans.  This is especially dangerous in Utah, where water shortages are a concern.

Marrion Rice again.

“In Parley’s Nature Preserve, it became a de-facto dog park, and we noticed as soon as you got past that point of the protected watershed the e. coli levels increased significantly throughout the park as you went downstream.  It really affected that waterbody, that watershed, so much so that it became impaired on the EPA’s 303-D list of impaired water bodies.  Since that time the city parks and public lands fenced off some of the areas along the creek to give that part of the creek a chance, and it’s definitely helped out quite a bit.”

Dogs are permitted in some capacity in many city parks and public trail systems across Utah, but there are some exceptions, especially where city workers would bear the brunt of abandoned dog messes and where water quality is a concern. 

Logan is one of only five cities in the Wasatch Front that does not regularly allow dogs in its parks, according to research done by the Logan Mayor’s Office this year.  Leashed dogs are, however, allowed on the trail system around the city. 

Logan mayor Holly Daines is currently considering asking the city council to change an ordinance and allow dogs in city parks. 

“People love their pets, and if you look at the statistics on the number of people that have pets, that number is really pretty high and is growing all the time,” said Mayor Daines.

The city of Layton had similarly strict laws restricting dogs in parks until recently when they relaxed their laws on a one-year trial basis,

“What they found is that the situation of finding dog messes in the park actually got better because responsible pet owners that were now in the park would tell other people, ‘hey, take care of your mess, here’s a bag or get the bag at the entrance to the park.”

The conclusion is clear.  Pick up the poop to protect our watersheds. 

“The population across the state is growing and our economy is doing well," Marrion Rice said. "Water supply is an underpinning to, not only the public health of our population but also to our economy.  It makes a lot of sense for us to protect that resource and steward that resource as much as we possibly can to make sure we have a prosperous future.”