City of Billings
How many times have you taken a walk in Riverfront Park or on Norm Schoenthal’s Island in south Billings, only to have your senses attacked by the smell of pet waste or the feel of it squishing beneath your feet?
It appears that even though bags and waste containers are provided on the trail, pet owners do not always dispose of the waste properly. Riverfront Park and Norm’s Island are one of the few parks that allow pets within the Billings area.
Pet waste can be a major source of bacteria and excess nutrients in local waters. In fact, in 1991, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) deemed pet waste a “nonpoint source of pollution,” which puts pet waste in the same category as oil and toxic chemicals. Unlike wildlife feces, which are mostly organic, and cow and horse manure, which is grain based, pet feces is protein based making it unusable as a fertilizer. Pet feces does not break down like wildlife feces, therefore causing harmful bacteria and diseases to remain on the ground until it is either removed, or washed away. When pet waste washes into lakes, rivers or streams, the waste decays, using up oxygen and releasing ammonia; low oxygen levels and ammonia combined with warm temperatures can kill fish and aquatic wildlife.
Pet waste also contains nutrients that encourage weed and algae growth. Fertile water can become cloudy and green, which is not desirable for boating, fishing, or swimming.
Most importantly, pet waste carries diseases which make water unsafe for swimming or drinking. Diseases that pass between animals and humans are called zoonoses.
According to an article published in USA Today in 2002, several cities with riverside parks were documented with high levels of bacteria caused from pet waste. One such case was the Boise River in Boise, Idaho, where the river suffered from high bacteria levels, making it unsuitable for swimming.
Testing of drainpipes flowing into the river revealed that in the surrounding urban areas, dogs were a leading culprit for the high bacteria levels. In some areas along the river, dogs and cats accounted for more of the bacteria than human feces (from leaky septic tanks sewage pipes). While no testing has been completed on the Yellowstone River, the urban areas, climate and landscape of Boise, Idaho are comparable to Billings. Learning how Boise deals with pet waste and bacteria levels may help Billings as we continue to expand our urban areas.
In addition to pet waste in parks, there are other ways pet owners contribute to water degradation by not properly cleaning up pet waste. For instance, when you clean up after your pet, do you dump the waste in the street or storm sewer? Do you leave it to decay on the sidewalk or the grass near the street? If so, you may be causing pollution or health problems, because this waste can wash down storm drains in streets, which eventually leads to the Yellowstone River. Furthermore, pet feces, if not cleaned up, can cause burns and unsightly discoloring of lawns.
It is estimated that 4 in 10 households include at least one dog and 45% of those are large dogs over 40 pounds. Unfortunately, only 40% of these dog owners pick up after their dogs. When walking your pet or even in your own yard, pick up the waste and dispose of it properly. While pet waste may not be the largest or most toxic pollutant in urban waterways, it is one of the many little sources of pollution that add up to a big problem. Remember where our drinking water comes from, which may make you think twice about not picking up after your pet.
For more information visit the EPA website at http://www.epa.gov/ and visit this link for the 2002 USA Today Article http://www.usatoday.com/news/science/2002-06-07-dog-usat.htm.