Yellowknife has a poop problem and there’s more than one culprit.
Between human waste in public parks and dog poop left unscooped, the city is left with a multifaceted problem that is more than just smelly.
Public washrooms are a necessity, just like garbage cans, city Coun. Cynthia Mufandaedza said in calling for more portable washrooms in city parks on May 3.
While her presentation convinced the city to go ahead and figure out the costs, the plan is not without obstacles, such as high costs and how to solve historic issues like vandalism, including a portable toilet being burned to the ground.
The city has earmarked $65,000 toward the expansion of Somba K’e Plaza’s washrooms, which have been open to the public since February.
Individual portable toilets aren’t cheap, just ask the Yellowknife Slo-pitch Association, which spent over $4,300 to procure and maintain a portable toilet at Parker Park, only to have it vandalized and tipped over. The group decided six years and multiple replaced portable toilets later, it just wasn’t worth it.
The costs aren’t just financial, unfortunately; human and domestic animal waste can cause major environmental havoc.
The author of the seminal book on wilderness skills, “How to Shit in the Woods,” advocates that people carry their own waste out out of the bush with them.
Human waste takes about a year to biodegrade, can contaminate groundwater, and, as author Kathleen Meyer posits, is the main cause of giardia (beaver fever) in water systems.
As for pet waste, the City of Yellowknife has bylaws ordering dog walkers to have poop bags on hand, directing them to remove dog feces immediately in public spaces and to keep their own property clean to the point where the accumulation of feces won’t annoy or cause a health risk to others.
Even though there seem to be plenty of rules, there certainly isn’t much enforcement.
According to the Canadian Public Health Association’s website, failing to pick up after your pooch means that during spring runoff or heavy rain falls, the poop is washed into lakes, ponds, and streams. Dog poop is high in both nitrogen and phosphorus, which encourages weed and algae growth.
Algae blooms work to block available sunlight from reaching aquatic plants which, in turn, produce less oxygen. Fewer plants and less oxygen in the water is bad news for fish and other organisms whose existence is sustained by availability of sunlight.
The viruses, bacteria and parasites found in excrement from people and their pets can cause disease, and pets and kids are the most at risk.
The Ecological Landsacape Alliance — an advocacy organization for eco-friendly landscaping practices — reports uncollected dog waste can pass a number of diseases to humans and their pets including: antibiotic-resistant forms of E. Coli., salmonella, bacterium that commonly cause food poisoning, and infections caused by parasitic roundworms.
Yes, wild animals poop outside and no one picks that up, but the advocacy organization says that’s like comparing apples to oranges.
“Unlike wild animals that might establish a territory of 12 square miles (suburban coyote) to 1,000 square miles (wolf), our canine friends generally walk where humans lead them. It’s easy to see that walking a dog on the same route, day after day, without waste pickup leads to a lot of accumulated waste.”
A lot of waste, indeed. Acccording to the group’s website, the average dog creates 270 lbs of waste every year.
The simplest solution to avoid getting sick or killing off a wetland is to pick it up. Just pick up the poop. Whether it’s in your yard or along a remote trail, poop-scooping isn’t optional.
While city parks and trails have signs reminding dog owners to leash and clean up after their pets, it is our experience that neither of these rules is always followed.
Some people are always going to flout the rules but when doing the right thing is the easy thing, we say more people will comply.
We think the city should supply biodegradeable dog poop bags at various stations along pathways and in parks (perhaps right next to existing garbage cans?) in order to give people a reminder and an opportunity to do the right thing.
As a wilderness city with thriving wetlands and lakes, it is unacceptable for residents to risk the health of other people, their pets and the health of our ecosystems.
While the city sorts out funding for more public toilets, maybe we can take a page from Meyer’s book and pack out what we pack in — if you catch our drift.
The issue: Keeping a lid on feces
We say: Do your part