Statistically, 55% of American households include at least one dog. I did some rough calculations and research involving the populations around the lake combined with that statistic to conservatively estimate that the dog population in communities bordering Lake Tahoe is somewhere around 9,000.
For the sake of analysis, let’s take the figure of 10,000 dogs in the communities directly bordering Lake Tahoe. The average dog produces approximately 274 pounds of poop annually. If we assume 10,000 dogs in the area, we are producing 2.74 million pounds of poop every year.
I love to walk and do so twice daily, often accompanied by one or more dogs. When I first started walking dogs, I didn’t feel the need to pick up the deposits left by my dogs because:
•It was natural •It would decompose •It wasn’t hurting anything •It was organic •Everybody leaves their poop •We were out in the woods—it’s not like it was in someone’s yard!
And then…I started to realize that I was rationalizing my laziness, like so many people do, and finally came to the conclusion that my thinking was self-serving and I needed to change my ways.
It is definitely not the most enjoyable task I perform with my doggie friends but it’s important. Not only do I pick up my own poo, I pick up all the deposits left by dogs whose owners think it is OK to leave it “out in the woods”.
There are parasites present in dog poop such as E. coli, Salmonella, Giardia and Cryptosporidium, as well as roundworm and hookworm.
A study conducted several years ago by University Nevada-Reno Cooperative Extension found that E. coli died off rapidly as the fecal material dried in the sun and the heat but researchers postulated that, given water, such as snow or rain, the parasites within could survive and enter the water source heading to the lake. This particular study only examined one type of E. coli, but it was concluded that the most likely time for contaminants from dog feces to reach the lake is during wet and cool weather.
In addition to parasites, fecal material contains nitrogen and phosphorous—naturally occurring elements that plants, including algae, feed upon. Nitrogen also depletes the water of oxygen, which is stressful for the aquatic life.
There are people who have taken it upon themselves to aid in the process of poop removal and one of those people is Rachel Flower, an Incline Village resident who walks regularly from the Ponderosa Ranch area down to Hidden Beach.
Last summer she noticed a large amount of dog poop strewn all along the path and she decided to do something about it. She approached Madonna Dunbar, Resource Conservationist, IVGID Waste Not Program/Public Works and volunteered to monitor and stock a dog waste station through a program sponsored by Tahoe Water Suppliers Association (TWSA).
TWSA currently has 58 stations around the Tahoe Basin, some of which have been adopted by concerned citizens such as Rachel. At the Hidden Beach station alone, it has been estimated that yearly usage will total 6000 bags.
The program provides in total 30,000 bags per year. If we estimate that each bag ultimately removes 4 ounces of poop, a total of 7,500 pounds of poop and all its nutrients and parasites are removed from the shores of Lake Tahoe.
Granted, many dog owners are already picking up after their pets but we all know that many aren’t. My friend, Jacquie Chandler on a walk to Hidden Beach before the snows began, picked up over 20 piles of poo from the roadway down to the beach.
Last fall when I had the chance to take a walk from Highway 50 down to Nevada Beach, I saw at least 40 piles of poo along the way.
Preserving the clarity of Lake Tahoe is uppermost in our thoughts or should be. Many volunteers, including Rachel, myself and Jacquie are doing what we can. If we all commit to picking up after our pets as well as the other piles we happen to find, we can make an impact in the amount of poo left on the ground and help to make Lake Tahoe just a little bit cleaner.