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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

While we were busy obsessing about the terror of urban hens . . .

Street side storm drain, Dryden Ontario.This is the type of portal by which tons of toxic-bacteria-loaded fecal wastes from dogs and cats enter our waterways. Image via Wikipedia

. . . dogs and cats -- whose waste is toxic, rather than an outstanding soil amendment -- run and do their business all everywhere, degrading our water, killing songbirds by the millions (cats), contract and spreading rabies, causing car accidents, and occasionally mauling or even killing people (dogs).

Public hearing at City Hall at 5:30 p.m. tonight (8/18) so the Planning Commission can decide whether to recommend taking pet hens out of the definition of prohibited "livestock" in Salem's land use ordinances. This would allow the City Council to devise a city ordinance on hens without having to treat everything having to do with hens as a land use issue (which requires involving the Planning Commission). So whether you're for or against urban hens, you should be for this proposal, so that the decision on hens goes to the right place (the electeds rather than an unelected land use board). If keeping hens is a land use issue, then keeping dogs and cats with all their attendant problems should be a land use issue too, and should require much more stringent controls and enforcement.

An average dog generates about one-half pound of waste per day, which translates into about 12 tons of untreated waste per day, according to Mary Middleton, a research biologist with the Pacific Shellfish Institutes in Olympia.

In addition, one gram of dog waste, which weighs the equivalent of a business card, contains 23 million fecal coliform, almost twice as much as human waste.

All it takes is a hard rain to wash pet waste off streets, sidewalks and lawns into storm drains that empty into lakes, streams and Puget Sound. Once in the water, the bacterial contamination can lead to swimming area and shellfish harvesting closures.

"Pet waste is a concern to shellfish growers," Middleton said. "It's even more of an issue when you have a lot of concrete and impervious surfaces."

In 2000-01, the Thurston County Department of Environmental Health studied sources of bacterial pollution in Henderson Inlet. Failing septic tanks and pet waste turned out to be the main culprits. . . . For years, the message to dog owners has been to either seal their dog's waste in plastic bags and put them in the trash, or flush the waste down the toilet, if you're on a sewer system.

But the . . . the region's sewer utility, recently recommended against customers adding dog and cat waste to the wastewater load.

Pet waste is dry, and hard to move through the sewer system, said LOTT spokeswoman Lisa Dennis-Perez. Also, it contains different bacteria and pathogens than human waste, which could make it harder and more expensive to treat.

"It's not that we've had a problem," Dennis-Perez said. "But that's a huge volume of waste, if everyone started flushing it down the toilet."

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