By Erica Marra
The Meridian Times Staff Reporter
Unattended pet waste across Meridian Township is posing problems for the community, and not just because it’s an eyesore. With all of the melting snow, the animal waste left behind by pet owners is draining its way into the township’s storm water system, creating an environmental hazard.
Thomas Voice, a Michigan State University professor within the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, said that the issue is a common occurrence that many cities face with the change of seasons.
“In those first spring thaws, a huge amount of the pollutants that build up over the winter flush into the river and it typically has a significant impact,” he said. “Pet waste is fecal material and there’s certainly the possibility of diseases being transferred this way.”
Voice said that because Meridian Township’s drinking water supply comes from a system of deep wells separate from the storm water system, there is an unlikely chance that the township’s drinking water supply is harmed. However, because Meridian Township’s storm water system drains directly into its lakes and rivers without receiving treatment, there is a risk of polluting the area’s lakes and rivers.
Derek Perry, Meridian Township’s Assistant Township Manager and Director of Public Works & Engineering, said that most citizens are not aware of where the materials dropped down storm sewers end up.
“The water on the sanitary sewer side comes from when people flush their toilets use the sink. That water goes into a separate system, the sanitary sewer system, which ultimately that makes its way to the water treatment plant to get impurities out,” Perry said.
“Storm sewer systems are a direct route to our rivers and streams. Those grates that people see around the roads or in parking lots, those don’t end up at a waste water treatment plant where there’s a treatment process to remove those impurities,” he said. “Those end up directly into rivers and streams, and that’s why it’s important for people to know that people shouldn’t be leaving pet waste around or letting things like oil run into the systems.”
According to the Ingham Conservation District (ICD), the waste produced by the dogs and cats in the tri-county region is about the same as what 50,000 humans would produce, almost equivalent to the amount of people city of in East Lansing. The ICD also noted that in 2013, their tests found that E. coli levels exceeded water quality standards at several sites within the Red Cedar Watershed — levels that the organization partially attributes to pet waste.
Additionally, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, decomposing pet waste uses up oxygen necessary for fish and other aquatic life. Voice said that such oxygen is imperative to the well-being of Meridian’s water systems.
“The biggest issue with any kind of waste material is that when it gets into the river it breaks down and when it breaks down it consumes oxygen,” he said. “The health of the river has everything to do with how much oxygen it has.”
Meridian Township has warned its citizens of this issue by posting infographics on their Facebook page as well as providing informational material on their official website. Also, there is a $75 fine, which later increases to $150 or $250 dollars for multiple offenses, for those who commit the infraction of failing to pick up their pet’s waste.
Alayna Sands, an Okemos resident who does not have a pet, said that she thinks a combined effort by both pet-owning individuals and the township government can put a possible end to this problem.
“I think that pet owners should simply clean up after their pets,” Sands said. “Meridian could also put out more posts containing doggy bags to try and motivate individuals to actually pick it up.”
Okemos citizen Stephanie Meade, owner of a self-proclaimed “mutt,” said that she is aware of the ongoing issue and continuously makes the effort to clean up after her dog.
“The dog waste is bad at my apartment complex. It’s gross,” Meade said. “It’s just lazy and irresponsible to not clean up after your dog. Since it only takes two seconds, there should really be no excuse.”