Too many dog owners think their pets’ waste easily breaks down in nature and is helpful to plants, so they leave it on the ground. The truth is that dog poo and other pet waste is loaded with germs such as e. coli and giardia that make people sick as well as nutrients that can fuel problematic algae blooms.
Because many storm drains found on city streets lead directly to rivers and creeks, pet waste left in the environment can find its way to drains and flow directly into waterways. To combat misconceptions and guard local waterways against pet waste pollution, the Philadelphia Water Department recently ran a social media campaign asking residents to select its “spokesdog.”
Voters chose a five-year-old rescue dog named Dolphina to be the face of the water department efforts. The wave of publicity generated was an entertaining way for the department to spread the word about a serious problem.
Philadelphia’s spokesdog promotion is just one of the ways water utilities are getting more creative to raise awareness of stormwater runoff, which has become one of the leading causes of water pollution. The idea is to catch the attention of those who don’t understand the significance or would otherwise ignore the problem altogether.
In Raleigh, N.C., for example, the utility’s stormwater management division hired an artist to paint murals at strategically chosen storm drains. The art is intended to show residents that its bad to pour pollutants such as cleaning products and motor oil into the drains because of the direct impact on the health of lakes and streams.
The city placed the murals near drains known for a combination of heavy pedestrian traffic and significant water pollution issues. Officials plan to track the success of the campaign through regular testing for pollutants. Many municipalities mark storm drains to explain they’re only for rain, but Raleigh is among a few that are taking outreach a step further by painting murals at or near the drains.
Preventing stormwater-related pollution will go a long way to ensuring waterways continue to provide critical support for wildlife, recreation, and drinking water source supplies. Raising eyebrows to tap into public consciousness about the issue is likely to be more effective than the traditional, dry education campaign.