Nova Scotia

Your dog's poop might be polluting waterways

High levels of canine E. coli have been found in areas of Lake Banook and Lake Micmac, and Halifax is appealing to pet owners to help prevent it from happening.

City launches Canines for Clean Water to raise awareness

Halifax is asking people to clean up after their dogs after high levels of canine E. coli were found in two popular Dartmouth lakes. (Sarah Lawrynuik/CBC)

It turns out that not picking up after your pets can harm more than just the soles of shoes.

Halifax has launched a new campaign encouraging owners to pick up after their dogs because their waste contains bacteria and parasites that may enter city waterways.

Sam Austin, councillor for Dartmouth Centre, said neglected dog waste can come with unpleasant side effects.

"It's adding two things to the waterway: it's adding, of course, a huge dose of phosphorus, and then the other piece is E. coli," he said.

"So it affects waterways with both those things, and neither one of them are good."

Austin said too much phosphorus can stimulate plant growth and lead to blue-green algae, while E. coli can lead to infections.

High levels of canine E. coli were found in Lake Banook, a popular spot for paddling and swimming. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

A pollution control study presented to the regional watershed advisory committee in April identified areas of Lake Banook and Lake Micmac as having high levels of canine E. coli — a type of bacteria found in the lower intestines of dogs.

"That's unhealthy for us, and that's what can lead to closed lakes," said Austin, who said dog waste on the shores can easily wash into waterways with the rain.

The study also found samples of E. coli from birds, deer and people.

Canine E. coli found near beaches, dog park

The pollution control study, which was conducted by Stantec Consulting, said some of the highest levels of canine E. coli were found near Shubie Park and Birch Cove Beach, as well as in natural watercourses discharging into Lake Micmac.

"Canine markers were identified at numerous sample locations, with several hits near public beaches and an off-leash dog park," it said. 

"Increased awareness of the requirement to remove pet waste from public beaches, walkways, recreational and forested areas may aid in the reduction of canine marker detection."

Austin says high levels of bacteria can lead to beach closures. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Samples from birds were more commonly detected, but the study suggested that there is a higher prevalence of bacteria associated with waste from humans, dogs and deer.

While the study said the human waste poses the greatest health risk, Austin said it's important to take all E. coli sources seriously — especially ones that are preventable, like dog waste.

"You want to make sure that you're doing all you can to minimize that so that we can enjoy the lakes for recreation," he said.

Canines for Clean Water

Halifax staff recently launched a campaign called Canines for Clean Water to raise awareness for the impact that dog poop can have on local waterways.

Dog owners interested in taking part can sign a pledge on the Halifax website promising to always pick up after their pets.

Austin said he hopes the campaign will help encourage more people to pick up after their dogs.

"Most pet owners are quite responsible. It's just a matter of trying to up our game to get to the folks that aren't," he said.

"Clean up after your dogs if you like to swim in the lakes, if you like boating in the lakes, if you value the environment."

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About the Author

Alex Cooke

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Alex is a reporter living in Halifax. Send her story ideas at alex.cooke@cbc.ca

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