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Animal Waste and Water Quality

Lake Management Committee - Animal Waste and Water Quality*

Animal waste is one of the many little sources of pollution that can add up to big problems for water quality as well as cause human health problems. Animal waste contains several types of pollutants that contribute to water quality problems: nutrients, pathogens and naturally toxic material, ammonia.

Waste decomposition uses up oxygen. During the summer months when the water is warm, the combination of low oxygen levels and ammonia can kill fish and other aquatic life. The nutrients cause excessive weed growth and algae. Pathogens can make the water unhealthy and unenjoyable. Fortunately, there are some simple practices everyone can do to help prevent pollution by keeping animal waste out of the water.

  • Don’t feed the waterfowl.
    • Bread is waterfowl’s equivalent of human “junk food”. It adds calories to a bird’s diet with minimal nutritional value and lacks the roughage of birds’ natural diets. Consumption of their natural diet - insects and plants - helps keep surface water clean. Ducks, geese and swans that can get an easy meal may decrease foraging as they are greedy for bread treats. Feeding also can cause birds to concentrate in numbers larger than can be supported by natural food sources.
    • Large flocks of birds also create large amounts of waste and serious water pollution problems. Not only is excess excrement a nuisance, it encourages anaerobic conditions as decomposition consumes more oxygen than is readily available from water. This leads to unsightly water and unpleasant odors.
    • Unconsumed bread sinks to the bottom where it rots and can collect botulism. The bacteria are then spread to flies and maggots, which the waterfowl eat. The birds then become infected. Avian botulism is commonly known as limberneck disease because it literally causes a bird’s neck to go limp.

  • To discourage an overabundance of waterfowl, do:
    • Create a buffer zone – a natural strip of vegetation along the shoreline. Geese in particular will usually not cross a buffer to feed on lawns as they are reluctant to walk through vegetation taller than they for fear of predators.
    • Waterfowl find Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass particularly tasty. Re-seed with other varieties.
    • Use visual deterrents for watefowl. Mylar tape that flashes in the sunlight and hums in wind is known to repel birds. String the tape at the water’s edge. Leave some slack and twist it as you string it from stake to stake.
    • Install low wires or fencing along the water front. This will be an effective deterrent during the summer molt.

  • Pick up after your dog.
    • Gathered pet waste can be flushed down the toilet to decompose in the septic system.
    • It can be wrapped and place in the trash for collection. Or, it can be buried in the yard at least 5” deep. Take care that runoff will not impair children’s play areas, water-flow into the vegetable garden, the lake or your compost.

  • Dispose of kitty litter in the garbage.

Some of the more common waste born diseases are:

  • Camplyobacteriosis (causes diarrhea in humans),
  • Salmonellosis (symptoms include fever, headache, vomiting and diarrhea),
  • Toxocariasis (roundworm which causes rash, fever and cough or vision loss),
  • and Toxoplasmosis (a parasite that can cause severe birth defects if a woman contracts the parasite when pregnant. Symptoms include headache, muscle aches and lymph node enlargement).

*This article was either extracted or paraphrased from the following sources:

“Animal Waste and Water Quality”, Fact Sheet #6, Clean Waters (a collaboration of the CT Sea Grant Extension Program and the University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension), Heather M Crawford, Coastal Resources Educator.

“Please Don’t Feed the Ducks”, FOLA Newsletter, October 2000 (FOLA excerpted its article from Lake Line, C.J. Eccher)

“Ways to Discourage Canada Geese In and Around our Lakeshores and Waters”, FOLA Newsletter, July 2000 (FOLA excerpted its article from the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy’s newsletter, “The Shed Sheet”)

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