Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Sea, Sand and Dog Poop?

The street where I grew up
Hi, my name is Yudan Jiang. I come from an inland city of China, and my hometown is sitting near the nation’s longest river, Yangtze River. I studied Environmental Science in college, and with the desire to experience American education and culture, I came here for master program in Environmental Engineering. It is great experience in general, even those days struggling with deadlines and finals. My favorite thing about graduate school here is that everyone around me is really into what he/she is doing, which confirmed my enthusiasm for an environmental career. 

A lake near my house
During my program at Tufts, I worked on a team project of Stormwater Management with students from Urban Planning and Policy, and this is the first time I got to know how people from non-engineering background approach problems. Now I am an Environmental Policy Intern at Save the Harbor/Save the Bay, working to help improve water quality in Boston Harbor. Here I see how non-profit runs and secure funds, and when my cousin heard that I was with non-profit, he said, “Oh, so it is the same with the organization that Claire (Frank’s wife) is running in House of Cards?” I felt amused at what he said. In China, we also have many non-profits, but they haven’t caught much of the general public’s attention yet. The government started to realize the amazing role that non-profits could be, and I believe that there is increasing room for non-profits to develop and prosper now.

My first project here was to familiarize myself with the concept of beach water safety and flagging system. The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) tests Enterococcus (a bacterial which can be an indicator for harmful bacteria in water) level in beach water daily or weekly, and if the amount exceeds a standard, then the water is deemed as not swimmable; the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) advises the public’s beach activities by posting flags on beaches from the tested results. It sounds a perfect system, but I was surprised that the beaches were flagged based on the samples taken on the previous day. However, it is unavoidable because it takes the lab 24 hours to process the sample and release the result. Given the fact that marine water is unlike fresh water—the tides could entirely change the water quality, it is unlikely that today’s water quality remains consistent with that of the previous day. This puts the flagging system on a questionable ground, which speaks for the reason that the flagging accuracy for existing system is needed. However, the good news is that most of the time the water is clean during the swimming season (May-Sep). For example, only 1 day exceeds the standard during the swimming season of 2012 for Pleasure Bay in South Boston.

The other project I’ve worked on is sanitary survey, and the goal is to investigate the potential contamination source for Enterococcus in beach water. Sewage leakage from old and broken pipes, illegal connections to the pipeline, or even the storm water runoff carrying pollutants could make their contributions to the bacterial level in the nearby water body. But for some beaches, like Pleasure Bay, the infrastructure problem was pretty much settled but there were still occasionally bacterial exceedances in the water during the swimming season, like I mentioned earlier. How did this happen? Is there any neglected pollution source? And the answer is YES! As audience mentioned that Pleasure Bay was quite popular among dog walkers at 2014 Metropolitan Beaches Commission public hearing, we paid a visit to Pleasure Bay in March. Unsurprisingly, we found numerous dog poop piles left behind on the beach and quite a few dogs walked by their owners during weekends, which provides us a reasonable guess that dog may cause the problem!

I was surrounded by dogs at Victory Park
We also visited Victory Park, a park on the shoreline and locating north of Tenean Beach. Tenean Beach is not as clean as Pleasure Bay, and infrastructure (pipe) failure still remains a problem here. During our visits, we found that commercial dog walkers regularly visited to walk the dogs, and tremendous dog poop were left behind. This is the first time I was surrounded by so many dogs which were NOT-ON-LEASH. As my grandparents live in the suburbs, I spent lots of time there before I went to college in China. There dogs are mostly kept as guard dogs, they would bark at people they don’t know, chase after bikes and cars. I always held my breath when I walked past a dog, avoiding making eye contact. I was told that dogs would be scared if they see you bending, because that makes them think you want to pick something and hit them. And of course I tested it when the dog was on a firm leash attached to an iron bar, and it worked; the dog would back up when I bent, and that was super cool! However, when I was in Victory Park, there was no way to keep calm. 40 dogs were around, and almost all of them were off leash. I heard dogs barking everywhere and only 4 people watching them, and suddenly I saw 10 dogs running to me. You have no idea how terrified I was at that time, as they stopped to smell me, and spread their muddy paws onto my knees! I stood there, trying to be graceful, quickly putting on my thick gloves, thinking that at least I could protect myself a little bit if they bite me. Fortunately, they left me unhurt, and I survived. I am still proud of myself being surrounded by so many dogs!

When we had those preliminary clues for dog problems, another thing needed to work on is to get an idea of how much pollution dog poop can generate. Take Pleasure Bay as an example, I performed calculations to estimate the required amount of dog poop to raise the entire bay’s Enterococcus level to the swimming standard, assuming that all bacterial released and mixed thoroughly in the water. As a result, 54 pounds of dog poop or 288 dog poop events is needed. It is not a huge amount of poop, and the common sense tells us that it couldn’t be the reality that 54 pounds of dog poop is washed into the ocean, mixed uniformly and stay for long time. However, it is likely that one or several dog poop piles would have the ability to pollute a stretch of beach for many hours. This is what the general public may not be aware of, when they are walking their dogs on a sunny day, not cleaning up after the dogs, probably thinking that a poop event won’t have much impact on the water quality, however, they are wrong. And this is why we are doing the work, using scientific knowledge to educate the public, and to make a better world! 

Yudan Jiang

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