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.

More green plants don’t equal more fish in our waterways – here’s why

Aquatic plants supply food, shelter and oxygen for the fish and other aquatic life that share their environment. Pretty important stuff. So, logically, the more plants in the pond the better, right? Well, sort of.

While native aquatic plants are certainly a good thing, there’s a growing contingent of non-native interlopers in these parts. At least 10 species in The Woodlands water bodies appear on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s prohibited species list. These invasive species are illegal to sell, distribute, import, possess, or introduce into Texas waters.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has identified several plants as illegal to sell, distribute, import, possess or introduce into Texas waters. Some plants on the above list are not yet prohibited but are known invasive plants in The Woodlands.

The problem starts with the unfair advantage that non-native invasive plants enjoy: fewer natural controls than their native counterparts. This allows them to spread easily and choke out the natives. And as native plants disappear, so do many of our native fish species and other life who simply can’t adapt.

These invasives don’t need any help. Yet, we give them plenty by turbocharging their growth with lawn chemicals. Rain and irrigation readily carry chemicals from lawn to storm drain to local waterway. There they fertilize aquatic plants just as they do your grass. All the excessive growth that results eventually dies and decomposes, consuming oxygen in the process – A LOT of it. So much in fact that oxygen-depleted dead zones result – not good if you’re an aquatic organism. If you’ve ever seen fish floating at the top of a pond, particularly in the summer, this is a likely reason.

In short, invasive aquatic plants bring a slew of bad news.

BUT there’s good news, too! With a couple of simple steps, you can help turn the tide. In fact, more and more residents across The Woodlands are doing exactly that.

Step 1 – Remove all non-native plants from your landscape. Even if they aren’t an aquatic species, they still risk escaping into natural areas. Remember, plants don’t have to grow their way to new areas; seeds are great at dispersing by wind or bird.

Step 2 – Reduce, or even better, eliminate chemical use in your yard. Substitute organic products in their place. Did you know organic compost is probably the single best amendment for your yard?

Support your local fish populations, and all the other critters that depend on clean, healthy water. Remember to: Remove, Plant, Repeat! Remove invasive species, plant natives and repeat the process.

Learn more during Watershed Project: Aquatic Invasive Species, an online workshop scheduled for June 5, 2021, from 9 to 11 a.m. The workshop is FREE, but registration is required. Click the button below to register.


Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov


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Today I Saved A Frog

Never underestimate the power of youth to bring about change. Just because they’re young doesn’t mean they can’t show us older folks how to be environmentally responsible. Kids get it!  

Take the case of the Discovery School of Innovation students who stepped up recently to protect our local streams. A volunteer project installing storm drain markers near their school in Grogan’s Mill piqued their interest; they wanted to learn more, get involved and make a difference. 

Along with the school’s Director, Cathy Sagar, the students started by connecting with a Township environmental educator, diving a little deeper into The Woodlands’ water quality. They studied watersheds and modeled how stormwater carries pollutants from lawns and roads into our local waterways, like Spring Creek. They also grappled with some tough problems. Some people mistake storm drains for trash cans dumping grass clippings, litter, auto fluids and more into storm drains. Unfortunately, everything dumped in the drain is carried directly to a nearby waterway.    

Others fail to pick up after their pets. Pet waste is one of our biggest water quality issues. Dangerously high bacteria levels result when waste is left on the ground. Though it eventually breaks down, harmful bacteria remains, eventually working its way into nearby water bodies, endangering aquatic organisms and humans, alike. 

The good news? Youthful determination prevailed. Understanding that something can be done about these issues, they leapt into action to get the message out: keep our creeks clean!  

Remember how everything felt so certain when you were young? On a crisp December morning, the Discovery students jumped into action, affixing markers that carry the message about pollution in storm drains. As they were finishing their final drain marker, they observed a frog intently observing them.  In that moment, they felt certain the frog was telling them they had done the right thing that day, for him and all the other critters that rely on clean water.

 

But that’s not the end of the story for these young water heroes. Each student committed to picking up litter when they see it and picking up after their pets, too. They bubbled over with enthusiasm to share their new knowledge and commitment with others, continuing to expand their impact.  

Sure, most of the Storm Drain Marker Project volunteers are adults. But none of us, young or old, should take clean water for granted. And let’s not take our action-oriented youth for granted, either. If you see them installing markers or picking up litter, give them a shout out. And consider joining them by  registering to volunteer. Save a frog, a fish, or maybe Spring Creek.  

To learn more contact The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department at enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or 281-210-3800. 

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

What do you think about water?

Consumers in Texas commented on a Water Survey!

  • Do you think about your water usage on a daily basis?
  • Do you make an effort to use your appliances efficiently?
  • Do you contribute to community-oriented water conservation efforts?

In 2018, 4,000 residents across 14 states shared their thoughts on these and other questions about our most precious natural resource – water. Texas respondents to the Perspectives on America’s Water Survey numbered 383, second only to California. See if you agree with their answers.


More than half of the people surveyed thought American businesses should do more to contribute to sustainability efforts related to water:

Should businesses take the lead and work with local community groups on water related initiatives?  

70 percent said YES.

Should businesses help community members be better educated about water usage and conservation?

67 percent said YES.


Are you trying to conserve water?

46 percent of consumers reported that they were personally trying to conserve water.

43 percent are willing to do more – by new daily activities at home to reduce water use.

However, 23 percent said they needed help in identifying new ways to save water.


In answer to questions about drinking water:

67 percent of consumers in the southern region of the U.S., including Texas, are concerned about contaminants in the sources of their drinking water.

Overall, 91 percent of consumers say clean water is our most important natural resource.


So what do you think?

Do you agree with their answers? We want to hear from you! Copy and paste into an email the questions below , and include YOUR responses. Send it to enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov.

Water Survey Questions:

Should businesses take the lead and work with local community groups on water related initiatives?  

Should businesses help community members be better educated about water usage and conservation?

Are you personally trying to conserve water?

Are you willing to do more by learning about new daily activities at home to reduce water use?

Are you concerned about contaminants in the sources of our drinking water?

Do you agree that clean water is our most important natural resource?

Sign up to receive “New and Noteworthy“, a weekly update from The Woodlands Township Environmental Services to stay informed, receive notifications about events, and get tips about best water use. You will see:

  • education and information about water use and conservation
  • how to reduce contamination in local waterways
  • notices about presentations on these and other vital topics

You will also receive information on other helpful topics such as Recycling, Native Plants, Holiday trash schedules, and more. For more water-specific information visit HERE!

If you have questions, call Environmental Services at 281-210-3800.

Click HERE to view the entire Water Survey.