Apr 3, 2000, 12:00am EDT
This is the time of the year when Atlanta is at its most beautiful. Greenery and color show off our metro area to vacationers, conventioneers, business travelers and other out-of-towners.
However, there's something lurking in the grass and flowers that can sour a pleasant stroll in the park, the neighborhood, or along downtown streets -- dog poop.
Now, there's growing evidence that the brown stuff isn't just an eyesore, but a major contributor to stream pollution and a threat to aquatic life. And state officials predict the problem will become more serious unless we dog owners pick up our pooper scoopers.
In the Lenox Park complex where I live, few owners clean up after their dogs. The same thing is true in the park that backs up to my complex and the surrounding neighborhood. "Please pick up after your pet" signs are springing up on suburban lawns and intown patches of grass.
In most parts of the metro area, pooper scooping is not an option. It's the law.
In Atlanta, failing to pick up after your dog violates the city's ordinances, and carries a fine of up to $1,000. DeKalb County has an ordinance, and the fine is usually determined by a judge.
In unincorporated Fulton County, which does not have an ordinance, a county employee described picking up after your pet as "part of being a good neighbor."
Beyond the annoyance factor, dog waste causes worms and other diseases in dogs. And state officials regard it as bad for the environment.
"One of the reasons we have a high bacteria count in metro Atlanta water is from dog waste," said Lynn Cobb, manager of the Keep Georgia Beautiful division in the state Department of Community Affairs. "It washes into the wastewater. It's a huge problem."
Alan Hallum, manager of the water protection branch of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, lumps dog waste in a category of "pointless" polluters, or environmental contaminants that we can control.
Hallum's staff has found 75 stream segments in the metro area exceed EPD's standards for fecal coliform bacteria, which comes from a combination of things including waste from dogs and other warm-blooded animals.
"Everything you put on the ground ends up in the water," Hallum said.
Dog waste and trash make it difficult for fish and small aquatic life to survive because they add excess levels of nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen into steams. That throws the ecology of those streams out of balance, which means more treatment is required to make water fit to drink. In metro Atlanta, much of our water supply comes from a handful of uptakes along the Chattahoochee River. "It's safe to drink but we want to minimize the treatment process," Hallum said.
Compared to taxes, growth and other problems facing municipalities and county governments, doggie patrol is not a big deal, but as the region takes on more people, our collective impact has more consequence.
"With 1,000 people a square mile, you concentr
ate everything," Hallum said.