Gass column: Pet waste impacts more than your shoes
I don't know if anyone else has noticed, but the morning routine outside sure has changed from just a month ago. No more does it seem to be solemn, dark and still past 6:30 a.m. Far from it, in fact.
Bickering birds are waking me and the intruding sun comes much earlier. Indeed, everything is stirring sooner than before and hues of green are taking back the landscape.
A welcomed invitation to me, and others, to get outside for morning activities. Going for a run or walking the dog seem the two most usual, with the latter leading to an annoyance that I can't help but draw attention to: uncollected pet waste.
It's easy to think lightly on the matter. You might say to yourself, "I'll come back and get it next time;" "No one walks over there — it's fine;" or "Who cares? It will break down."
As it turns out though, like most things, it's more complicated than being a footwear landmine that ruins the day of the unvigilant victim.
Consider that pet waste is a collection of unused nutrients and bacteria. On a landscape, we might think this is benign. But what about when it enters a waterway? Indeed, we unveil yet another storm water pollutant.
When runoff meets pet droppings, it washes it partially or entirely away, carrying with it an influx of nutrients that otherwise aren't naturally present to the receiving system.
Think of this in relation to a favorite recipe of yours. To have the concoction you want in the end, a particular blend of ingredients must be used, along with a specific sequence of handling, interactions and conditions. If, say, too much fat or seasoning is added to a dish, you might end up with a creation that offers different textures or tastes altogether.
A healthy water feature really isn't much different. When we start adding to many nutrients, we ruin our recipe, especially since nutrients are intended to be a mostly fixed commodity in an environment and simply cycled through the various life forms that live there.
Hence, when we start adding nutrients without adjusting other factors, things are thrown off. Pet waste specifically leads to excess algae and weed growth, which in turn lowers dissolved oxygen levels and murkies the water.
In other words, water that looks like the type we neither want to swim in nor fish from.
Additionally, bacteria and pathogens are found to proliferate in features that accumulate pet waste over time, meaning that local streams or lakes can become unsafe for recreation and harmful to wildlife.
Such cases have been observed where local summer hotspots must be closed due to the health risk posed by infection or illness. Similar health effects are seen as well in creatures living or using the impaired water which translates to your four-legged family member being at risk, too.
I can't emphasize enough how important it is to simply do the responsible thing. Although an action may seem insignificant, it contributes in the long run and likely has an impact in more ways than you expect.
Be the example and pick up after your pet, please.
Chris Gass is a MN GreenCorps member serving at the Carlton Soil and Water Conservation District and focusing on stormwater and urban forestry. Reach him at 218-384-3891 ext. 5. Information on the SWCD can be found on Facebook and at carltonswcd.org.