Because Lake Tahoe is so pure and the Lake Tahoe Basin is ecologically fragile, all human sewage is first treated and then pumped out of the basin to be used for gray water elsewhere. The South Shore’s treated waste irrigates ranching country in Alpine County to the south. The North Shore’s treated waste goes to Douglas County, south east of the basin. Treated sewage from the northwest part of Tahoe (Tahoe City) is pumped out of the basin along side of the Truckee River to Truckee where it joins other waste treatment.
Tahoe’s solid garbage is split into two groups. An increasing portion is recycled. The remainder is trucked to landfills in Nevada.
But what about other waste like dog waste?
Yes, I know we have a lot of territory where dogs can run. What harm could a little doggie waste do? A lot, actually. There are no hard numbers on how many dogs live in Tahoe. But we can extrapolate.
The permanent population in Tahoe runs from about 50,000 people in the winter to 90,000 in the summer. Across America, there is roughly one dog for every four people. That would imply approximately 12,000 dogs during Tahoe’s winter, swelling to 22,000 dogs in the summer. 22,000 dogs produce approximately 11,000 pounds of feces a day. And that doesn’t count the dogs that tourists bring. Assuming the summer population lasts for three months, and the winter lasts for nine months, the total works out to 3,555,000 pounds of dog waste each year. Add the waste of dogs brought in by tourists, and we have something approaching two thousand tons of waste dumped onto our woods, our roads, our beaches every year.
That adds large amounts of fecal coliform bacteria into the environment. It also adds nutrients that feed a wide range of plants. When the bacteria and nutrients run off into the lake, it produces an explosion of algae, which in turn feed other creatures, both plant and animal. Two thousand tons of unintended fertilizer each year is a huge accelerator in the process of turning Lake Tahoe into a swamp, what scientists call eutrophication.
But what if everybody picked up their dog waste and put it in the garbage?
Giant problem solved! It would be trucked out of Tahoe to the landfill, where it could slowly break down far away from a pristine lake.
It is so easy to stuff clean-up bags in your pocket when you walk your dog. And it would make such a difference.
Let’s all be responsible dog owners and Tahoe lovers and clean up after our dogs.