Our Pet Waste Problem

Man’s best friend is causing a problem that is too big to ignore. With an average waste output of .7 pounds per day, dogs in The Woodlands create about 23 tons of waste daily! Responsible pet owners know the importance of picking up after Fido at the park or along the pathway. But have you ever wondered what happens if you leave it behind?

If you think it’s a natural fertilizer that will decompose with little impact to the environment, just take a look at our contaminated waterways. They tell a different story. According to the Houston-Galveston Area Council’s 2020 Basin Report, almost 65 percent of Spring Creek is listed as impaired because of high bacteria levels. The tributaries within the Township that flow into Lake Woodlands and Spring Creek; Upper and Lower Panther Branch Creek, Willow Creek and Bear Branch Creek, are all included on the list of impaired waterways because of bacteria. The truth is, pet waste is endangering the health of our watereways.

The issue

Left on the ground, bacteria, viruses and parasites in dog waste can transfer to humans and animals. A single gram of feces contains over 23 million bacteria, including harmful pathogens like e coli, giardia and salmonella. And you don’t have to step in a pile of waste for it to be a problem. The pathogens live on long after the pile has dissolved, spreading through the soil and eventually into the nearest waterbody (including your favorite fishing spot).

Not all poop is equal

So why is pet waste more harmful than deer or other wildlife scat? According to the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, waste left behind by wild animals actually benefits the ecosystem because those animals consume resources and nutrients from the ecosystem. Our pets’ diet, while healthy and balanced for them, creates excess nitrogen and phosphorus in their waste that leads to unstable conditions when it enters our waterways. Pet waste also introduces fecal coliform bacteria into waterways and is known to cause serious health problems in humans, like intestinal illness and kidney disorders. These water-born pathogens make it dangerous for swimming and other recreational water activities.

Coyote scat, pictured above with berry seeds, is visibly different from our pet’s waste and reflects the differences between wild and domesticated diets. Resources consumed in the wild are returned to the wild when waste is left behind.

Good news

The solution is simple. Do your ‘doody’ to pick up pet waste and place it in the trash. Bagging pet waste and leaving it behind only delays the inevitable – contamination still occurs once the bag breaks apart, and it creates a litter issue, to boot.

Here’s a simple way to make bagging and tossing your dog’s waste a part of your daily walk: 1) attach a carabiner to the handle of your dog’s leash; 2) hang a plastic grocery bag from the carabiner; 3) place bagged waste into the grocery bag. Voila! A hands-free option for carrying bagged waste to the nearest trash can.

By simply carrying your pet’s waste home, you can prevent contamination in our neighborhoods and waterways. Photo credit: ZKillian

Spread the word

Disposing of your pet’s waste properly is an important first step, but the work doesn’t stop there. Get the message out to your neighbors that putting pet waste in the trash prevents pollution. If you’re a dog owner, model the solution for others. If you’re not a pet owner consider taking action to protect our waterways by joining one of our many volunteer projects.

Volunteers are needed to help install markers on storm drains in your neighborhood. Markers remind residents that anything going in storm drains (dog waste, lawn chemicals, litter) will be washed into a nearby waterway – unfiltered and untreated. To be notified about the next training and volunteering day, email Environmental Services at enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov with Storm Drain Project in the subject line.

Hoping the pet waste fairy picks up after your dog?

What’s pet waste have to do with wading in Spring Creek? Let’s break it down: Based on national averages, our community dog population produces about 55,000 pounds of waste per day*. Most of us are diligent about picking up after our pets, but not all. Too many feel someone else will clean it up – maybe the pet waste fairy. 

When dog waste is left behind, the bacteria it contains is washed into the nearest storm drain during rains, flowing to the closest waterway. It empties unfiltered and untreated into our community streams, creating a health hazard for humans enjoying water-based recreation. 

The contaminated water continues to the next stream, river or lake all the way to the coast and the Gulf of Mexico, adding bacteria along the way as it runs through more urban areas. Houston-Galveston Area Council’s 2020 Basin Report indicates that almost 65 percent of Spring Creek is listed as impaired because of high bacteria levels. The primary source is dog waste.

42% of the streams in our region are impaired due to elevated levels of bacteria. For more information, see pages 4 and 8 of the 2020 Basin Report for more details regarding Spring Creek.

According to the Report, in the Houston-Galveston region one of the most significant water quality issues faced is elevated levels of bacteria in our local waterways – indicators of the presence of sewage and pathogens such as infectious bacteria, viruses, and protozoans. High bacterial concentrations may cause gastrointestinal illnesses or skin infections in swimmers or others who come into direct contact with the water. 

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), to comply with the requirements of the Clean Water Act, set the acceptable level of bacteria in waterways as 126 colony forming units (cfu) per deciliter (dL). On average, Spring Creek levels are between 350 and 800 cfu/dL, with the higher numbers during runoff after rainfall. The tributaries within the Township that flow into Spring Creek, Lower Panther Branch Creek, Willow Creek, Bear Branch Creek and Lake Woodlands, are all included on the list of impaired waterways because of bacteria. 

More data on impairment levels of Spring Creek are available courtesy of the Houston-Galveston Area Council

Be a responsible pet owner and don’t wait for the pet waste fairy. Picking up after our dogs and keeping our community clean, means water that’s safe for human recreation and for the aquatic organisms that live in it, and better for the environmental health of our community. 

*Resources: American Veterinary Medicine Association and  www.clearchoicescleanwater.org 


Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Smarter About Water: 4 steps to protect our watershed

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You wouldn’t want to swim in dog waste, but that’s what is happening when we’re taking a dip in most of the waterbodies in our region. Dog waste, or more specifically the fecal coliform bacteria that it carries, is prevalent throughout the San Jacinto Watershed, of which The Woodlands is a part. In fact, it’s the number one contaminant in Galveston Bay, the end point for our creeks and rivers. This was just one of the insights residents gained at the latest Smarter About Water Seminar, an annual series by The Woodlands Township.

Justin Bower, Senior Planner in Community and Environmental Planning for Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC), outlined many of the issues facing our area waterways, examining impacts on recreation, drinking water and the environment. The lively question and answer session that followed underscored the critical importance of these issues to the audience.

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. There are simple actions each one of us can take that will make a real difference for our water quality.

  • Assure that pet waste is picked up and disposed of in the trash – Whether washed overland or dissolved into the soil, pet waste that is left outdoors will eventually work its way into a local water body. More than a third of the bacteria in local water bodies comes from dog waste. Left unchecked, that figure is projected to climb to 50% within 10 years.  Contamination could grow to be almost half of the bacterial problem over the next 10 years.
  • Ensure lawn chemicals are timely and needed. Due to stress on the aquifer, a portion of drinking water comes from treated surface waters. Applying too much fertilizer to your lawn, or applying it right before a rain will send these contaminates into nearby lakes and streams, impacting water quality through algal overgrowth and reductions in dissolved oxygen. This is one reason why surface water is more expensive to treat than groundwater.
  • Conserve water and costs – The cheapest water we have is the water we have now. Developing new sources, including surface water, is expensive and will only continue to increase in cost over time. Avoid wasting water in your home and landscape to reduce the stress on our water sources.
  • Get involved in the decision making process – Lend your voice to the next round of community meetings regarding Cypress Creek and Spring Creek this fall. Discover what actions are needed to protect the health of the watershed and collaborate with others in finding solutions.

To review the current Watershed Protection Plan and other documents go to: https://westfork.weebly.com/project-documents.html

For more ways to protect and conserve water in The Woodlands Township, contact the Environmental Services Department by calling 281-210-3800, or send your email inquiry to enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov