Worried about water quality? Pick up, bag and trash your dog’s poop

Bellingham resident Karin Henson plays with her dog Harper at Squalicum Creek Park on Friday, July 8, 2016.
Bellingham resident Karin Henson plays with her dog Harper at Squalicum Creek Park on Friday, July 8, 2016. eabell@bellinghamherald.com

You’ve seen it along Bellingham trails and at dog parks, piles of dog poop left behind by people who didn’t pick up after their pets.

The poop is more than unsightly, or annoying if you step in it.

The waste contains fecal coliform bacteria that wash into area streams, lakes and beaches when it rains. The bacteria, which are an indicator of mammal or bird poop, also point to the possible presence of other organisms, such as roundworms, E. coli and giardia, which could sicken people and animals that come into contact with polluted water.

Worried about worsening water quality? Then the best thing to do is pick up your pet’s waste, bag it and put it into the trash – no matter where you are.

That’s the message that environmental organization RE Sources for Sustainable Communities is trying to get out through its new Squalicum Clean Water Project.

“Dog poop is sewage, not compost,” said Eleanor Hines, lead scientist for RE Sources.

There are about 40,000 dogs in Whatcom County; combined, they generate more than 30,000 pounds of waste a day.

The goal is to reach out to pet owners who may not realize how harmful their pets’ waste can be to the environment, RE Sources said.

“I think there are a lot of people who want to do the right thing,” Hines said. “They just don’t know.”

The project focuses on neighborhoods in the upper part of the Squalicum Creek Watershed. Those are Cordata, Meridian, King Mountain, Irongate and Barkley.

The project expands on the city of Bellingham’s We Scoop effort, which was launched in 2015 to reach out to neighborhoods in the lower part of the watershed, which are Columbia, Cornwall Park and Birchwood.

Squalicum Creek itself doesn’t meet state standards for water quality and is listed as impaired by the Washington Department of Ecology. Problems include fecal coliform bacteria, too-warm temperatures and inadequate levels of dissolved oxygen. Declining salmon stocks also are a concern.

To get out the message, volunteers also have gone to Cornwall Park and Squalicum Creek Park. At the dog park section at Squalicum Creek Park, volunteers put up flags near 100 abandoned piles to show that pet owners needed to do a better job.

There are an estimated 40,000 dogs in Whatcom County, and they generate more than 30,000 pounds of waste a day.

Fecal coliform is one of the top sources of nonpoint pollution, which is pollution you can’t trace to a particular point of discharge because it comes from a wide area.

“It is hard to prove where it’s coming from because it’s not one source; it’s lots of tiny sources all over the place,” Hines said.

But within city limits, dogs and even cats are the most obvious sources – and one that people can do something about.

“Scooping the poop is the most obvious and quick solution to this problem,” she said. “Not enough people are doing it.”

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea

How to help

If you want to volunteer to talk to people about the importance of picking up after their pets, contact Eleanor Hines, lead scientist for RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, at eleanorh@re-sources.org.

Poop Patrol volunteers will be in parks, flagging piles left behind to show how widespread poor waste-pickup practices are.

Tails on Trails volunteers will go to parks and events to talk to people about the importance of picking up, bagging, and putting dog poop in the trash, no matter where they are.

People also can help do their part for the Squalicum Clean Water Project by taking the Poop Pledge online at re-sources.org/pooppledge.

Upcoming Poop Patrols include:

  • Thursday, July 14, at Squalicum Creek Park (by the dog off-leash area, also referred to as the dog park)
  • Friday, July 15, at Cornwall Park (by the parks and recreation office off Meridian Street)
  • Thursday, July 21, at Little Squalicum Park (at the entrance behind Bellingham Technical College, in the parking lot)
  • Friday, July 22, at Broadway Park (on the side just off Broadway)

All patrols will be from 4:30 to 6 p.m.