A mission for dog owners

Living in an area surrounded by wetlands that drain into Puget Sound, Leonard Jorgensen got tired of neighbor dogs leaving their deposits on his property.

He knew that pet waste, which carries high concentrations of fecal coliform, can pollute the water. Plus, it can make an unsanitary mess.

So Jorgensen, who lives northeast of Boston Harbor, asked Thurston County water resource officials to install a pet waste disposal station near his home a year ago.

Before too long, most neighbors got into the habit of stopping by the station to pick up a plastic bag while out walking their dogs so they could clean up their dog’s messes and dispose of them in the trash.

“It’s solved about 80 percent of the problem,” Jorgensen said.

Thurston County and the cities of Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater all include pet waste disposal stations as part of their water pollution prevention programs.

And well they should.

An estimated 50,000 dogs reside in Thurston County, which is more than the human population of Olympia. An average dog generates about one-half pound of waste per day, which translates into about 12 tons of untreated waste per day, according to Mary Middleton, a research biologist with the Pacific Shellfish Institutes in Olympia.

In addition, one gram of dog waste, which weighs the equivalent of a business card, contains 23 million fecal coliform, almost twice as much as human waste.

All it takes is a hard rain to wash pet waste off streets, sidewalks and lawns into storm drains that empty into lakes, streams and Puget Sound. Once in the water, the bacterial contamination can lead to swimming area and shellfish harvesting closures.

“Pet waste is a concern to shellfish growers,” Middleton said. “It’s even more of an issue when you have a lot of concrete and impervious surfaces.”

In 2000-01, the Thurston County Department of Environmental Health studied sources of bacterial pollution in Henderson Inlet. Failing septic tanks and pet waste turned out to be the main culprits.

Since 2004, Thurston County and Lacey have installed more than 80 pet waste disposal stations in the Henderson Inlet watershed in a bid to reverse bacterial contamination problems that have caused shellfish growers to either stop harvesting clams and oysters all together or when it rains.

Lacey water resources officials do follow-up surveys six months after a station is installed, noted Erin Keith, water resources specialist for the City of Lacey.

“We consistently receive very positive feedback and are hearing that following installation of the stations there is, in more cases significantly less dog waste left on the ground,” Keith said.

Olympia and Tumwater also install pet waste disposal stations in neighborhoods and along public trail systems.

For years, the message to dog owners has been to either seal their dog’s waste in plastic bags and put them in the trash, or flush the waste down the toilet, if you’re on a sewer system.

But the LOTT Alliance, the region’s sewer utility, recently recommended against customers adding dog and cat waste to the wastewater load.

Pet waste is dry, and hard to move through the sewer system, said LOTT spokeswoman Lisa Dennis-Perez. Also, it contains different bacteria and pathogens than human waste, which could make it harder and more expensive to treat.

“It’s not that we’ve had a problem,” Dennis-Perez said. “But that’s a huge volume of waste, if everyone started flushing it down the toilet.”