Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Bay-Friendly Living: How much poop is too much in your water?

By Tom Kutcher, Save The Bay Baykeeper

Dogs are really fun and cute and are, indeed, some of our best friends. They have personalities that endear them to us because they exhibit many of the same expressions and postures as humans, including happy, sad, excited and, yes, ashamed.

But frankly, I don’t want to follow along behind any of my best friends and pick up their poop directly after they relieve themselves. I did this with my kids for about four years, collectively, and that was quite enough for my lifetime.

So I understand when dog owners are tempted to just let Rover sneak into the bushes near the sidewalk to discreetly do his No. 2 business without the fanfare and humility of the inside-out shopping bag. But, as the Baykeeper for Save The Bay, I have to tell you that this is not good.

Let’s do the math. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 462,000 households in Rhode Island. And according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 29 percent of Rhode Island households are homes to dogs. That means there are at least 134,000 dogs in the state that need to relieve themselves at least once per day.

Just about all land in Rhode Island is in the Narragansett Bay watershed, meaning it drains into rivers, streams, lakes and ponds (including drinking-water reservoirs) and eventually into the bay. Additionally, twice as much land in Massachusetts, with a similar but slightly lower dog ownership rate, also eventually drains into Narragansett Bay. Conservatively, we can estimate that when we add in Massachusetts, twice as many dogs are doing “business” in our watershed — that’s 268,000 pups.

Continuing with the math, let’s use a single dog poop as a starting unit of measure; 268,000 pups times 1 poop per day equals 268,000 poops per day. Now, let’s covert that to volume so we can visualize it. Everyone knows what dog poop looks like, right? For simplicity, let’s say the average poop is about a cup, and there are 16 cups in a gallon. Our conservative estimate of 268,000 cups of poop per day divided by 16 cups per gallon gives us 16,750 gallons of poop per day.

Now visualize a gallon of poop looking about the same size as a gallon of milk, except gross. If you stood those gallons side by side, the gallons of poop “contributed” by our dogs would stretch for more than 1½ miles per day, or 580 miles per year.

Now, none of us would ever consider dumping even a gallon of dog poop into the bay even just once. But if every dog owner in the Narragansett Bay watershed let their dog poop outside without picking it up, we could expect most of those 16,750 gallons of poop to end up in our waterways — the waterways we use for drinking water, swimming, fishing and shellfishing. That’s a lot of poop.

And for a community like Aquidneck Island, where most of the drinking water is gathered directly from watershed surface runoff, it becomes particularly important. In fact, the 24,367 households on Aquidneck Island (according to the 2010 U.S. Census, and that’s not including the summer visitors) translates to about 7,356 dogs on the island pooping about 1 cup per day, for a total of 460 gallons of poop per day being produced on the island.

How much dog poop is acceptable for us to dump into the waters we swim in or drink from? I’m guessing we’d all say “none.” But every time we leave Rover’s No. 2 on the ground when no one is looking, we’re essentially saying that swimming in and drinking contaminated water is OK.

So, just as every individual in Rhode Island collectively contributes to our proud community of Rhode Islanders, our collective conscience in picking up after our pets is what keeps our precious waters clean.