To the editor:
Dog waste, coastal waters, climate change and tourism — what are the connections?
Several times last summer, I meant to write this letter but never got around to it. Then yesterday while walking my dog in Salem (about four blocks from the ocean), I picked up the dog waste from four other dogs besides my own dog. This morning, I picked up the waste of two other dogs besides my own. In all of these cases, the dog wastes were on the tree lawns of homes between the sidewalk and the street, which would mean a good rainstorm could easily have washed this dog poop into the streets and then into the nearest storm drains.
People who live in coastal cities of Massachusetts should know that in many cases the storm drains of streets that are close to the coast drain directly to the ocean. This means this dog waste and its fecal bacteria go into our coastal waters as a rather disgusting pollutant. There are nutrients in dog waste that stimulate algae growth and other biological processes that can then lead to eutrophication of shallow coastal waters.
Some algae actually exude toxic compounds and can also create bad odors.
When marine plant growth is stimulated by nutrients from dog waste or fertilizers, it produces more biological waste that is then fed on by organisms that consume oxygen within the water. In some of our U.S. coastal waters, we have serious zones of anoxia, which means the water is deprived of oxygen in a serious way and usually leads to fish kills. We have valuable marine fish species in the coastal waters of Massachusetts, and the last time I checked, our coasts were important to a rather robust tourism economy.
I am skeptical that all of the information in my letter is truly news to most people. What I believe is that too many dog owners have some knowledge of these facts and are either too lazy or simply uncaring of the ramifications of not picking up their dog’s waste. There are numerous responsibilities that dog owners are required to practice and/or take care of, and picking up your dog’s waste each and every time that you walk your dog is one of these responsibilities. I am the first to admit that this can be tiring at times, especially when we are overworked and always in a hurry. But when you watch a dog owner who does not pick up their dog’s waste, which I have done several times, they rarely appear to be in a hurry. I see them on their cellphone while walking their dog, not rushing at all, but just simply not being responsible and not picking up after their dog.
So what is the connection of all of this to climate change? The reason I wanted to write this letter last summer was that we had some large thunderstorm events that produced torrents of water. We have had stronger-than-normal nor’easter rainstorms and snowstorms, as well as other storms over the past few years. This is sometimes (unfortunately) referred to as an “increase in wacky weather” by the news media, but in actuality, the climate (computer) models that are used to research the possible impacts on weather events due to global warming climate change have long predicted that storms would be more intense, producing extreme amounts of precipitation in comparison to past “normals” of weather events. This means that large precipitation-producing events will be more common with climate change. Storms that in the past might have been a “once in a decade,” “once in a half-century” or “once in a century” event will be more common. When larger rain events occur in an urban or suburban area, there is more surface runoff generated, which can transport dog waste more easily from a tree lawn into a storm drain and to our coastal waters.
I really do hope that dog owners will be more responsible this coming spring and summer. I also hope that other dog owners will pick up the dog wastes of other dogs when they can. I cannot pick up the dog wastes left by other dog owners every time that I walk my dog, but I try to do it when I can.