The warm sand and cold water of Lake Champlain’s beaches are quintessential cures for the dog days of summer. As air and lake temperatures rise, more people flock to the lake for a swim. Imagine the disappointment if they reached the water only to find a sign warning that the beach is closed due to health risks.
In some places, old and leaking septic systems may be nearby, leading to beach closures. At other locations, extensive urban development may mean stormwater runoff carries bacteria to a beach. Warm, shallow areas of the lake are more susceptible to high bacteria counts than cold, deep waters. Areas with little or no development around them are unlikely to have problems with contamination. Potential sources will differ with every beach, so it would be inappropriate to generalize about beach health for Lake Champlain as a whole.
New York, Vermont and Quebec have different standards for determining when bacterial levels are high enough to close beaches and even for how frequently beaches should be tested. However, one generalization can be made: bacterial levels tend to be highest at any beach following a rainstorm, particularly in urbanized areas.
Major storms can cause overflows at wastewater treatment facilities, further contributing to bacterial loads. Urbanized areas use wastewater treatment plants more than rural areas. Even without such overflows, sources of bacteria accumulate on land between storms and move to a water body with stormwater runoff. Water moves greater distances over paved land, thus having more opportunity to pick-up bacteria as compared to grasses, fields or forests, where the water can seep into the ground.
In most parts of Lake Champlain on most days, swimming is healthy, enjoyable recreation. In urbanized areas following a rainstorm, swimming might best be avoided for a day or two.
The Scoop on Dog Poop
Besides the foul smell and the unpleasantness of stepping in hound mounds, pet poop is bad for waterways, lawns and people. Pet waste carries nutrients that feed the growth of weeds and algae in the water. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that two or three days' worth of droppings from just 100 dogs contributes enough bacteria to temporarily close a waterbody to swimming and fishing. Woof-waste doesn't make good fertilizer; it burns grass, leaves unsightly discoloring, and takes more than a year to break down.
There is nothing “natural” about the high density of dogs and dog waste associated with people. In most places where you walk your dog, there will be many more dogs than wild animals, and the accumulation of waste creates problems.
- When pet waste washes into lakes or streams it decays, using up oxygen and degrading water quality.
- Dog waste contains 23-million fecal coliform bacteria per gram, 10-times more per pound of body weight than even cows produce.
- Pets are responsible for up to one-third of bacterial pollution in waterways near developed areas.
- Ten to fifty percent of bacteria in air samples comes from feces with dog poop being a particularly dominant source.
- Pet waste takes a year or more to breakdown. Even after that the parasites can survive in the soil for years.
- Infected pet poop can carry roundworms and other parasites and pathogens (like cryptosporidium, giardia, E. coli, coliform bacteria, and salmonella) which can linger in soil for years. Anyone gardening, playing sports, walking barefoot, or digging in the infected dirt risks becoming infected. Children are most susceptible since they often play in the dirt and put things in their mouths.
What do you do with the poop?
Pick It Up
Whether you’re at home or on a walk, don't leave pet waste lying around. Take a plastic (or biodegradable) bag with you on your outings and pick up the poop you find on sidewalks, trails, and parks. Your actions will help protect our waterways.
Burying the waste about 5” deep will allow soil micro-organisms to break it down while keeping the poop from being washed away by the next rainstorm. You can also buy a mini pet septic system like Doggie Dooley or create your own!
Dog waste can be flushed down the toilet, the same as human feces. However, you should never flush bags or other pet waste (such as cat poop) down the toilet. Even biodegradable bags will damage the wastewater treatment facility’s equipment, and the parasite associated with toxoplasmosis (which is found in cat poop) can survive the water treatment process.
While not the best solution, putting bagged pet waste in the trash is better for the environment than leaving it in on the ground.
April Stools' & Scoop the Poop Days
The Lake Champlain Committee (LCC) annually hosts and coordinates April Stools' Days and Scoop the Poop events throughout the Lake Champlain watershed. The programs enlist volunteers in cleaning up dog doo before snow melt and spring rains send the accumulated pet waste into our waterways. If you're interested in hosting or volunteering for a clean-up event in your community contact Laura Pratt at LCC at laurap@, 802-658-1414. lakechamplaincommittee.org