Why You Should Always Pick Up After Your Pets

Of all the pollutants that we find in our watershed, few are likely to provoke as much visceral disgust as E. coli bacteria. It’s easy to understand why: E. coli comes from poop. Specifically, it comes from animal poop, including the pet waste that sits on many residential lawns.

It might seem like a stretch to think the dog waste sitting in your yard is polluting our waters, but it’s actually pretty straightforward. The storm drains in your street are a direct connection to nearby waterbodies. When it rains, the bacteria from your pet’s waste is washed into the storm drains and flows into the nearest river or lake without any treatment or filtration.

In our watershed, almost all storm drains lead to the Mississippi River, which means the bacteria from your dog’s waste is impacting not only our water quality, but also potentially some people down in New Orleans as well. Who knew our pets were such world travelers!?

In all seriousness, E. coli bacteria is a potentially dangerous microorganism, and several parts of the Mississippi River are listed as impaired for E. coli. The MWMO’s water quality monitoring team tracks levels of E. coli in our watershed. Here’s what they found happening in a stormsewer that drains to the river near St. Anthony Falls:

A chart showing that bacteria levels in a Minneapolis stormwater outfall were 14 times higher during a recent rain event.

During a rainstorm, E. coli levels in that area’s stormwater runoff were found to contain 1,790 colony forming units (CFUs) per 100 milliliters. That’s more than 14 times the acceptable level of 126 CFUs/100 ml — and nearly 30 times the amount of E. coli found there on a dry day. This is why we typically tell people to avoid swimming in the river in the 72 hours following a rain event.

To be fair, pet waste is not the sole culprit here. Wildlife is a major contributor to the problem. The difference is, we can’t control what a flock of geese do along the riverbank. When it comes to our pets, we have no excuse.

Always remember to pick up your pet’s waste. If there’s rain in the forecast, it’s a good time to walk through your yard and pick up anything your dog has left behind.

Tomorrow, at our ribbon-cutting event for the St. Anthony Regional Stormwater Treatment and Research System, MWMO staff will be handing out pet waste bag dispensers. These small containers loaded with plastic bags clip on to your dog’s leash so that you don’t forget your doggie bags when you take your pet for a walk.

A bag dispenser for picking up dog waste.
A bag dispenser. Carry these with you when you walk your dog so you can pick up after it.

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