Scoop the Poop!

You took a step in the grass and felt a squish under your foot. The rancid smell hit you. It would not have killed the dog owner to pick up after their pup!

It is bad enough to step in it, but it can seriously impact the environment. In particular, it impacts watersheds. Your foot smells, but imagine a stream flowing with putrid poop bacteria.

Local dog owners like Courtney Reese are often unaware of the way dog poop impacts the environment. While she believes in cleaning up after her dog in order to be a good dog owner, she never considered how her poop scooping efforts positively impact local watersheds.

Courtney Reese poses with her dog, Murray. Source: Courtney Reese

“My dog, Murray, goes through bags faster than other dogs because he is a puppy, but I am willing to buy them because it is part of being a dog owner,” said Reese.

Reese believes college kids either might not want to pay for bags to pick up the poop or they are unwilling to reach down to grab it.

“There was a stretch of time where bags were not provided at my apartment complex,” said Courtney Reese, local dog owner. “When bags were not provided, people were way less likely to pick up the poop.”

Not picking up dog poop risks exposing local watersheds to E. coli.

E. coli is a bacteria that lives in the intestines of mammals. When mammals poop, E. coli is found in the  fecal matter, according to the Mayo Clinic.

This E. coli enters watersheds when rain water washes dog poop into it through smaller streams. This risks humans being exposed to the bacteria when drinking or playing in the water.

When humans are exposed to some strains of E. coli, it can cause symptoms like abdominal cramps, bloody diarrhea, and vomiting when humans are exposed to it.

Lake Herrick in Athens, Georgia has undergone changes to lower E. coli levels with the goal of opening up the lake to recreational activity, according to Watershed UGA, a University of Georgia Department focusing on the improvement of watersheds on campus.

There is a dog park near Lake Herrick, which exposes the lake to E. coli from dog droppings through smaller streams. This happens when pet owners neglect to clean up after their dogs. When an unusual amount of poop is in an area, it causes more E. coli than usual to drain into the watershed, according to Watershed UGA.

“Now, there is a restriction on dogs there. They have to be on a leash, and you have to pick up after them,” said Gabi Rosenthal, Watershed UGA spokesperson. “The difficult thing is that it is hard to enforce these restrictions.”

According to Rosenthal, E. coli causes issues for animal and plant life because it impairs oxygen levels in the water.

Researchers at the University of Georgia measure the E. coli levels in Lake Herrick regularly.

Ashwini Kannan, a University of Georgia graduate student in the College of Engineering, studies the E. coli levels at Lake Herrick. While she is a graduate student, the professor leading this research, David Radcliffe, referred me to her for information because she is the one who collects and analyzes it.

She said Lake Herrick’s E. coli levels have not gone above normal recreational levels, but the primary concern is the high levels of E. coli in the steams leading to Lake Herrick, which spike during rainstorms.

This map shows the streams that flow to Lake Herrick. Source: Ashwini Kannan

“The poop directly drains to the streams because of the rain, and there is not anything to filter it,” said Kannan.

E. coli levels spike during storms, and the Armadillo stream runs into Lake Herrick. The red dots show the stormflow, and the blue line shows the increase in E. coli levels. Source: Ashwini Kannan

She investigates where the E. coli comes from at from at Lake Herrick by collecting water samples, filtering the sediment, and extracting the DNA from the sediment.

She said concentrations of animal poop contaminating the smaller streams leading to Lake Herrick cause the biggest concern.

“When we don’t scoop the poop, it is an undesirable addition to the environment. Even a little might cause a spike in the E. coli level because [Lake Herrick] is a very small watershed,” said Kannan.

Fortunately, the University of Georgia is working to improve water quality at Lake Herrick to reopen it for recreational activities by 2018.

UGA tweets about the renovations being made at Lake Herrick to improve water quality for recreational activities by 2018.

Your decision to pick up after your pet causes a direct impact on the environment and your own health.

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