What Can I Do?

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The Problem with Poop
We all know that pet waste left unattended is just plain gross.  But did you know that unscooped poop causes huge problems for waterways like rivers, lakes, and streams?  The EPA classifies dog waste as non-point source pollution, along with herbicides and insecticides, oil, grease, and toxic chemicals.  Not only is pet waste unsightly and smelly, but it contains an abundance of bacteria, parasites, worms, and more that wash into local waterways and pollute our natural resources.  Pet waste can also make people, pets, and wildlife very sick by acting as a vector for disease transmission.  It even attracts unwanted attention from pests.

E. coli and Other Dangers
One of the biggest risks associated with pet waste is E. coli bacteria.  Dog poop can contain 23 million E. coli bacteria per gram of waste, and the average pile contains nearly 3 billion E. coli bacteria!  Pet waste also hosts giardia, salmonella, parvo, worms, viruses, parasites, and more.  These can cause fever, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and other unpleasant symptoms.  Even after solids are washed away, these unwanted guests can stick around on the ground for years!

Waste in the Water
If left unattended, pet waste and the associated contaminants are picked up by stormwater when it rains. Stormwater (and the pollutants it picks up along the way) is washed down storm drains, where it travels untreated and unfiltered into Madison County’s waterways.  In areas that lack storm drains, stormwater flows directly to nearby waterways.

These harmful entities aren’t the only trouble pet waste brings to waterways.  Pet waste that decomposes in water is a quadruple threat.  Decomposing waste releases excess nutrients into the water, which cause algal blooms (eutrophication).  Algae blooms can be toxic to humans, pets, and wildlife as well as make recreation, such as boating, swimming, or fishing, dangerous for humans.  Algae can also be harmful because it feeds on and depletes oxygen in the water, meaning there is less oxygen available for the aquatic species that depend on it.  Oxygen is also consumed during the decomposition of pet waste, thus removing even more oxygen from the water.  Decomposing waste also releases ammonia, which damages the health of the aquatic system.

2. Pesticides, Herbicides and Fertilizers

Be an Informed User

Overusing herbicides & pesticides can be toxic to your health, local ecosystems, and our waterways. If you aren’t careful, it can kill good insects and healthy soil organisms, weaken plant root systems, and reduce important nutrients like nitrogen & phosphorous.

Don’t Expose Yourself!

If exposure to these chemicals can cause humans to get sick, imagine what they could do to smaller critters and the environment! You could get sick from eating, breathing, or touching some yard chemicals.

Don’t Pollute Our Waters

The quality of our water can become unhealthy by overusing yard chemicals like pesticides and herbicides. Since more and more people are using these chemicals, it’s important to make sure that they’re used correctly.

Your Soil Is Unique

Before Buying Fertilizer

  • A soil test will help determine the right amount of fertilizer to apply by testing the soil’s nutrient levels.
  • Fertilizer is commonly sold in concentrations of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). Before buying, read the label to ensure that you are buying the correct amounts. Pro tip: Slow release fertilizer offers a controlled release of nitrogen, which can help reduce nutrients leaching into our groundwater.

Applying Fertilizer

  • Always read and follow label directions.
  • Avoid using fertilizer on slopes or near bodies of water. If you must, make sure to leave a buffer zone, like an unfertilized strip of land near water. This will help prevent nutrient runoff.

Take Precautions

  • Avoid applying fertilizer before heavy rainfall, during winter, and early spring. This could lead to excess runoff.
  • Never apply fertilizer directly to lakes or streams.
  • Never wash fertilizer onto hard surfaces, like streets or sidewalks.

3. Litter in Madison County

Of all the pollutants out there, litter seems to be the most prevalent – and the most preventable.  Ask most people and they’d say “Litter?  Me?  Never!”  Yet our rivers, lakes, and oceans collect more and more trash each day.  Whether intentional or accidental, littering is extremely detrimental to the health of humans, wildlife, and the environment.  One piece of litter here and there may not seem like a big deal, but if everyone held this mentality, our planet soon be overwhelmed with trash.

What is Litter?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines litter as “any manufactured or processed solid waste that enters the environment from any source.”  In short, it is our misplaced trash and waste.  Litter can be anything from cigarettes butts to old tires to apple cores.

Conserving Natural Resources

Many types of litter, like soda cans or bottles, are made from recyclable materials but will not get the opportunity to be recycled and turned into new products because they end up in the environment instead of in the recycling bin.  This means that instead of reusing the natural resources that have already been harvested, like metal for cans or oil for plastic bottles, fresh resources must be harvested instead.  Even if these litters are retrieved during a trash clean-up, they will likely end up in the trash instead of being recycled.

How Can I Help?

Most importantly, never, ever litter.  Carry your trash with you in a bag or your pocket until you reach the nearest trash can.  In safe conditions, pick up litter you see on the ground, even if it isn’t yours.  With luck, others will see your responsible act and imitate it when they encounter litter. 

You can also discuss litter with your children, friends, and neighbors to encourage good behaviors in your peers.  You can participate in or organize your own litter clean-up. 

4. Yard Waste

Yard waste and trimmings account for nearly 17% of municipal solid waste. This waste consists of grass, leaves, tree, and brush trimmings - adding up to approximately 31 million tons each year. Through composting, we can reduce the amount of yard waste entering the solid waste stream.

Yard waste and debris can also clog culverts, storm drains, and pipes, causing flooding. Piles of leaves and grass clippings can overload a waterway with nutrients which cause algae blooms. These blooms can harm fish and cause toxin pollution which can affect recreation areas.

What You Can Do

The most preferable option for reducing the generation of yard waste is to switch from manicured turf grass to a landscape containing native plants those plants which have evolved over thousands of years in a particular region. As native plants require minimal or no mowing, the generation of yard wastes are significantly reduced or completely eliminated. In addition, these plants do not require fertilizers, pesticides or watering, due to the fact they are so well adapted to their environment. The reduction or elimination of lawn maintenance equipment significantly reduces air pollution. The native plants also provide shelter and food for wildlife; promote bio diversity and stewardship of our natural heritage and save money.

5. Used Automotive Fluids

Uh Oh Oil
We’ve all heard that oil and water don’t mix.  How about oil and the environment?  Nope!  Oil and other used automotive fluids (UAFs) are extremely damaging to fresh water habitats and the plants and animals that make their homes there.  When oil from vehicles or other sources enters the waterways, it is very time, money, and energy intensive to clean up.  Because oil does not dissolve in water, it can remain in and around waterways for a very long time.  Oil in water is carried downstream from the source, affecting all habitats it encounters and may eventually make its way to the ocean.

Don’t Drip and Drive
Most oil pollution comes from leaky cars, not spills.  Oil dripped on driveways, parking lots, and roads is carried by rain water down storm drains, which lead directly into local waterways, not a treatment facility.  According to the Smithsonian Institution, 363 million gallons of oil make it into storm drains and waterways each year.  That’s more than major oil spills, routine maintenance, offshore drilling, natural seeps, and oil burning combined! 

Cars aren’t the only culprits for oil leaks.  Drippy machinery can include lawn mowers, motorcycles, boats, tractors, ATVs, weed eaters… anything that holds oil!  It’s important to check your equipment for leaks and fix the ones you find.