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Picking up after your pets helps keep the environment clean.

When you’re walking or driving in your neighborhood, how often do you look at the storm drains you pass on the street? Probably not very often.

Storm drains are community infrastructure that help keep streets from flooding during a rainstorm. The also carry stormwater from your neighborhood directly to area stormwater ponds, or the Cannon River (also called the Standing Rock River, by the Dakota people). Most stormwater ponds also drain to the Cannon River over time.

Pets and storm drains

Two of the big sources of stormwater pollution are pet waste (mostly dog droppings), and illegal dumping of chemicals directly into a storm drain. While most pet owners follow city regulations and pick up after their four-legged family members, apparently not everyone does. In the Twin Cities Metro Area, dog droppings are the largest source of algae-causing fertilizers and harmful bacteria in area lakes. On average, we have 1.6 dogs per household in Minnesota. That means that in a city of 20,000 people we have about 7,900 households and about 12,600 dogs. That also means 12,600 to 25,200 dog piles each day landing in Faribault or Owatonna.

So even if 90% of residents pick up all of their dogs’ droppings (as required in city ordinance), that still leaves 1,260 to 2,520 dog piles per day on city streets, boulevards and parks.

Some people think that if their dog “does its business” in tall grass or in the woods, then they don’t have to clean it up because “it’s natural, it will just decompose”. But just because something is “natural” doesn’t mean that it can’t be a pollution problem.

Dog piles don’t just “decompose” or disappear, even in the tall grass. They can sit around for nine weeks or more in warm weather in Minnesota.They can last for six months or more when it’s in the 30s or 40s outside. So, for all practical purposes, no, dog droppings don’t decompose in Minnesota.

So why, you might ask, do fox and coyote droppings disappear so much faster? First off, we don’t have 12,000 foxes or coyotes living in our cities. There are maybe a few dozen. What’s more, those wildlife species have been living in the region for thousands of years. There are bacteria, insects, and other organisms who have evolved to consume and decompose wild canine droppings. But domestic dog droppings are very different from wild canine droppings. So dog poops can sit around for a very long time.

So first off, pick up after your pet, every poop, every day.

Second, if you see another dog’s dropping on the ground, be a hero and dispose of that poop as well. Any dog droppings in town can easily wash down the storm drain and into the Cannon or Straight rivers. Remember, dog droppings are full of algae-growing fertilizers and gross bacteria.

Another way to help

In addition to picking up after your pet, another way to keep pollutants out of our rivers and lakes is by cleaning the storm drain (or catch basin) near your house. Keep in mind that even leaves and grass clippings can cause a pollution problem if too many leaves or grass clippings get into the river.

It takes only a few minutes to sweep up any litter or plant material around the storm drain so that “only rain goes down the drain.”

Kevin Strauss is community engagement coordinator for Clean River Partners, formerly Cannon River Watershed Partnership.

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