In North Carolina, bacterial contamination of streams, lakes, and rivers is a serious problem. Bacteria may come from pet, wildlife, or human waste, causing diseases and dangerous infections in animals and people that come in contact with the water.
When waste such as pet droppings is left on our lawn, it is easily transported to nearby waterways by stormwater. Human waste may enter streams and rivers through sewer overflows, leaks in the sanitary sewer system, or failing septic systems. Pet waste is primarily from dogs, although cats may contribute some as well.
A septic system is a highly efficient, self-contained, underground wastewater treatment system which uses natural processes to treat wastewater, usually in a homeowner’s backyard. However, inadequately functioning and/or failing septic systems can contribute to the contamination of groundwater, streams and other bodies of water. Wastewater from septic systems may include many types of contaminants, such as nitrates, harmful bacteria, and viruses and can contaminate nearby drinking water supplies.
Water pollution problems from septic systems can be diminished by following these guidelines for proper care of your septic system:
- Inspect your system every 3 years and pump your tank as necessary (every 3 to 5 years)
- Don't dispose of household hazardous waste in sinks or toilets
- Divert roof drains and runoff away from the septic system area to keep extra water out
- Never drive over the absorption field with cars, trucks or heavy equipment
- Never plant trees or shrubbery in the absorption field, because the roots can get into the lines and plug them
Pet waste can be a major source of bacteria and excess nutrients in local waters. When walking your pet, remember to pick up the waste and dispose of it properly. Leaving pet waste on the ground increases public health risks by allowing harmful bacteria and nutrients to wash into the storm drain and eventually into local waterbodies. According to recent research, non-human waste represents a significant source of bacterial contamination in urban watersheds. Genetic studies by Alderiso et al. (1996) and Trial et al. (1993) both concluded that 95 percent of the fecal coliform found in urban stormwater was of non-human origin. Bacterial source tracking studies in a watershed in the Seattle, Washington area also found that nearly 20% of the bacteria isolates that could be matched with host animals were matched with dogs. This bacteria can pose health risks to humans and other animals, and result in the spread of disease. It has been estimated that for watersheds of up to twenty-square miles draining to small coastal bays, two to three days of droppings from a population of about 100 dogs would contribute enough bacteria and nutrients to temporarily close a bay to swimming and shellfishing (US EPA, 1993).
Water pollution problems from pet waste can be diminished by following these guidelines for proper disposal:
- Pet waste can be flushed down the toilet
- Pet waste can be double-bagged and placed in the trash
- Pet waste can be buried if it is placed in a pit at least 12 inches deep and covered with a minimum of 8 inches of dirt
Please pick up after your pet, and dispose of pet waste in the toilet or trash! If you have a septic system, follow proper maintenance procedures. If you suspect a sanitary sewer overflow or leak, contact your local sewer authority immediately.