Pet waste is a big concern, but there are other sources of waste, both human and animal, that you should be aware of. Read below to find out about some of these other sources.
Septic systems are small wastewater treatment systems installed for individual homes and handle the wastewater on the same property where it is generated. Septic systems are typically found in rural areas, but many still exist in cities and other urban/suburban neighborhoods. The waste goes to an underground tank in which the solids settle and decompose. The residual liquid is allowed to trickle out into the surrounding soil from a finger system field (below ground forked drainage tiles) where remaining impurities decompose in the soil (if the system is functioning properly). However, many soils are considered to be poorly drained and septic systems often release bacteria and other contaminants into groundwater and/or local streams during high water table events.
Septic systems function to remove the same pollutants from wastewater as do wastewater treatment plants receiving waste from sewer systems - phosphorus, nitrogen, bacteria, and viruses. Failing septic systems, however, allow these pollutants to contaminate our lakes and/or groundwater. These contaminants can destroy plant and animal habitat, cause beaches to be closed, and hurt the fishing industry. Human health is also at risk from failing septic systems. According to the US EPA, when people come in contact with water contaminated by these pollutants through recreation or drinking, they may suffer from eye or ear infections, gastrointestinal illnesses, or diseases like hepatitis. If drinking water wells are in close proximity to septic systems, especially if they are downhill from the leach field, they may be contaminated, making entire families sick.
Combined Sewer Overflows
In many cities and towns, stormwater and sanitary sewer (wastewater) systems are combined. This means that stormwater (the water that runs off of your roof, sidewalk, streets, etc. during a storm) and wastewater from homes and businesses end up in the same sewer system. Typically, the water in these combined sewer systems (CSS) gets treated by a wastewater treatment plant, but in times of very heavy rain (or snowfall melt), the plant cannot keep up and the water overflows. CSS are designed to occasionally overflow and excess water is discharged directly into streams, rivers, or other water bodies without first being treated. Water from overflows, known as combined sewer overflows (CSO) or storm sewer overflows (SSO) contains not only stormwater, but also untreated human waste, industrial waste, toxic materials, and debris. Approximately 772 cities in the U.S. have CSOs and they are a major water pollution concern.
Animal Feeding Operations
Animal Feeding Operations are a concern to water and the environment because of the potential to contribute a wide range of pollutants, including nitrogen, phosphorus, and pathogens. Animals raised for food, fur, or recreational purposes in confined areas such as lots, pens, ponds, or buildings for at least 45 days during any given year with less than 50% vegetation cover in the confined area is referred to as an Animal Feeding Operations (AFO). AFOs can be divided into two other types of operations - Confined Feeding Operations (CFOs) and Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). Each state has different requirements to define CFOs and CAFOs, but typically they must meet a minimum confinement period over 12-months and a certain number of animals. In Indiana, for instance, CFOs are defined as any AFO involved in the confined feeding of at least 300 cattle, or 600 swine, or 600 sheep, or 30,000 fowl, such as chickens, turkeys, or other poultry.
CAFOs are typically larger (more animals) than CFOs and are usually regulated under the NPDES permit program as defined by EPA Clean Water Act regulations. The NPDES program regulates the discharge of pollutants from point sources to streams, rivers, and other water bodies. All CAFOs are CFOs; CAFOs just have more strict requirements. Animal threshold numbers also vary depending on the size and/or maturity of the animal. As an example, this is the requirement for swine: 2,500 swine above 55 pounds or 10,000 swine less than 55 pounds.
Even though large livestock operations are regulated to ensure that waste created by these operations is properly disposed, smaller farming operations can also contribute pollutants to water. Many times cattle and other livestock have access to a stream or ditch that is running through the pasture as a source of water. Not only do the animals drink from these streams, but they also defecate in these streams. Their waste should also be properly managed to prevent it from contaminating our water. Livestock should be fenced out of streams and an alternative water source provided. Collect and pile manure and keep it under cover sheltered from rain and wind, direct downspouts and runoff away from these piles, and/or build a compost system or have an off-site compost facility collect the manure.
Geese, swans, and ducks may seem like a beautiful and natural part of a lakeside environment. You may enjoy them so much that you even spend time feeding them or otherwise encouraging them to spend time on your property or in local parks - but overly large waterfowl populations can actually cause several problems for humans, water quality, and other wildlife.
While Canada Geese are a native species, overpopulation caused by habitat changes and feeding by humans has begun to cause negative impacts. Lush green turf grass planted right up to the edges of our lakes, ponds, and streams has created the perfect habitat for their populations to explode, and for this reason, they are present in much higher numbers and for longer periods of time than they have been historically. These same conditions encourage larger than average populations of ducks and Mute Swans, often in the same location. In addition, the Mute Swan is not even native to the United States– it was introduced from Europe and disrupts natural ecosystems within the United States.
These large wildfowl populations leave a LOT of droppings behind. For example, a single Canada Goose eats 3-4 pounds of grass and can create as much as 2 – 3 pounds of waste per day! Between their heavy grazing of grass (and occasionally even ornamental plants) and significant amounts of waste, a large flock of geese can make a backyard or park a very unpleasant place for people to spend time. These droppings are not only unsightly, they can also make people sick, add nutrients and bacteria like E. coli to our lakes and streams, and in some cases even present a fall hazard to humans because of the slippery surface excessive droppings can leave. Nutrient loading from waterfowl droppings can contribute to water quality problems such as summer algal blooms, and bacteria from these droppings can accumulate to levels that make the water unsafe to come in contact with. Geese and swans can also be very aggressive towards humans, as well as other native wildlife, especially if they have built a nest nearby.