Ocean Beach’s Water Quality at Dog Beach Good Enough?

by on June 27, 2011 · 28 comments

in Environment, Health, Ocean Beach, Popular, San Diego

Party Pooper – A Call to Prevent Dog Feces From Reaching Our Water

An OB Rag article on May 27th reports that “Ocean Beach beaches all get “A’s” in water quality tests – not so all Mission Bay.”  This is great news and, while I am proud of our beaches for receiving this grade, I’ve got to be a party-pooper (pun intended).  As a dog owning activist for picking up dog poop, I looked at the Heal the Bay site to find ammunition arguing for even greater effort in pollution prevention, specifically dog poop.

Photo by Joshua Ganderson via flickr.com

I noted that the Ocean Beach San Diego River Outlet received an “F” overall during wet weather in 2010.  This grade came from receiving three “F”s and two “D”s in the fall of 2010 and two “F”s in late winter of 2010.  Not good for our swimmers, surfers or children.  One surfer told me the river outlet jetty is her favorite place because of the nice long ride it offers. Time-poor parents use Dog Beach frequently as a way to exercise both child and dog at the same time.  Since there is no daily posting of water quality at Dog Beach, any grade of “F” during a year has to be a cause for concern to people who want to use the water.

Do We have a Right to Bring our Dogs to the Beach?

While I loathe scare tactics and really do believe the fun offered by our Dog Beach is worth any risk it might pose, it drives me mad to see abandoned dog piles left on our beach. What will happen to them?  Who will pick them up?  I pick up a few but I can’t do it all.  I’ve seen other people do this as well, much more diligently than I.  Leaving dog shit on the beach is an insult to our surfers, hurts sea creatures, criminally endangers children, and dangerously risks our right to have dogs on the beach at all. If dog owners can’t prevent dog feces from being left on the beach and contaminating the water, then I simply can’t argue that we should have the right to bring our dogs to the beach at all.

It’s Not Fido’s Fault!

Some people protest that dogs (and their irresponsible owners) can’t be blamed for the water pollution and blame other sources like sewage leaks, up-river livestock , pelicans and seals.    Of the streams and waterways that have undergone expensive DNA testing in the United States, scientists found that 20% to 30% of the pollution came from dog excrement.  Furthermore, the often quoted Dr. Van Der Wel in Australia found that a single gram of dog waste can contain 23 million fecal coliform bacteria which suggests that leaving a single dog pile on the beach is unacceptable.  Finally, there is the convincing, albeit circumstantial, evidence that before San Diego’s $10,000 dog scooping initiative in 2001, Dog Beach was closed 125 times to swimmers.

Common Lies and Delusions

Admittedly, picking up excrement isn’t the most pleasant task.  I find it hard to feel cool  with my ass in the air  scooping  pooch piles.  Sometimes I imagine my dog’s bafflement as I pick up what he is so eager to leave behind.  So I totally understand why we’re eager to pretend that our dog’s feces won’t make much of an impact.  One popular and convenient lie dog owners tell themselves goes like this: “Wild animals poop in forests, rivers and seas, so dogs can too.”

“Not true” argues LakeSuperiorDuluthStreams.org:

According to the U.S. Humane Society, 40% of United States households have at least 1 dog. Assuming Duluth is average, there are at least 125 dogs per square mile in the city (based on 21,000 households). This is a much higher population density of large mammals than you would find in a natural forest. You would expect to find an average of 4 fox, 0.8 coyotes, 0.1 wolves, 2.6 raccoons, 0.1 lynx, 0.6 bobcats, 8.5 skunks and 0.2 bear per square mile in undisturbed areas.

I am guilty of believing the convenient delusion that: “Dog shit is safe once it dries out.”  I’ve tried to reason with myself that  since it doesn’t rain here often, an abandoned pile once in awhile can’t hurt.  I asked  “Ask a Scientist” to confirm this but they responded simply with this : “As soon as the feces is rehydrated, bacteria will grow.”

Bacteria and Parasites, oh my!

While I couldn’t find any studies that tested dried feces compared to fresh feces, it seems that sun-drying excrement may eliminate some bacteria in feces but it also might preserve other kinds of bacteria. And along with bacteria, some parasites also survive sun-drying. According to Ethne Barnes in his Diseases and Human Evolution, hookwork larvae moves “around in the soil to avoid drying rays of the sun and to gain a vantage point for contact with the skin of a warm-blooded host” using “it’s sharp pointed tail.” Roundworm  eggs  “can remain viable for many months (even for several years if in a protected location), and it is virtually impossible to kill the eggs with chemical disinfectants” writes Ray M. Kaplan, DVM, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Infectious Diseases;  Director, Parasitology Diagnostic Laboratory, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia, Athens.

“The eggs only can be readily killed by extreme heat (steam or flame) or long-term exposure (weeks to months) to UV radiation (direct sunlight). … there is little that can be done to remove or kill the eggs other than waiting for eggs to die naturally or physically removing the surface soil layer.”

Poop Scoop Law in San Diego

It wasn’t difficult for me to find evidence to justify my adamance that there should be stiff fines for people who don’t pick up after their pet. Yet surprisingly, I could only find one law pertaining to dog excrement:

Nuisance – Dogs are not allowed to defecate or urinate on the property of another. It is the owner’s job to curb the dog and immediately remove any feces to a proper receptacle. San Diego County Code 62.670

I suspect some politician might be wise to promise to give San Diego a better law. In the meantime, I think those of us who love taking our dog to Dog Beach should become even more active in protecting our privilege through citizen involvement. We must find ways to get dog owners to pick up their shit or we all might lose.  A few years ago, a few people managed to ban drinking alcohol on our beach.  Since dog feces poses a real risk to human safety, unlike drinking alcohol, I worry that if we aren’t able to prevent 99.9% canine defecation on the beach,  it will only be a matter of time before Ocean Beach’s Dog Beach legally becomes “No Dog Beach.”

Water Testing at Ocean Beach May have Gone from Weekly to Quarterly

One thing I noticed when visiting the Heal the Bay website might ironically protect our dogs’ ability to romp at Dog Beach in the future.  It looks like the organization may have discontinued testing the water weekly as of 11/2/2010 (at least they stopped listing weekly reports in the Historical Data section after that date.  If true, the 2011 annual score will tell us nothing about the day-to-day safety of the water and be of little help to those who want to know if it is safe to swim, surf or play at the OB River Outlet.  I also wasn’t able to tell from the Heal the Bay website if the water quality improves at the Dog Beach Stub Jetty which is only a couple hundred feet away from the outlet. With no weekly measuring safeguard, it places even greater responsibility on dog owners to remove any risk of pollution by picking up all dog waste.

Prolific Dog Piles

On a Tuesday, after a long week-end, the dog piles on Ocean Beach Dog Beach will be numerous.  I’d like to think it is the fault of irresponsible dog-owning tourists and not by locals but I’m not sure.  I complained to an Ocean Beach long-timer once who dismissed my concerns by exclaiming: “It’s great now; you should have seen it 15 years ago!”  I have no doubt that this is true but we now know how much more harmful dog excrement can be to people, sea life and other dogs than we did.  We’ve also experienced a considerable population increase in San Diego which brings even more dogs to the area. So we must not rest on our accomplishments.

Pick Up and Speak Up

A good score on water quality over a year should not lessen our determination to stop dog waste from reaching our water. Most of us  pick up our own dog’s waste but what should we do about the those who don’t?

I think we need to get involved and commit to action but what?  I have a few techniques that work for me.  When I see a dog  having a bowel movement and suspect the owners will either ignore it or fail to notice,  I cheerily call out to them  “Dog pooping!”  This usually works because most people  are really committed to picking up after their dog.  Occasionally I run into a person who I think is purposefully ignoring me (and their dog’s shit) but I tell myself that they just can’t hear me and call to them more and more loudly. I’ll even offer a bag to anyone who is making no move to pick  up their dog’s poop.  If I can’t get someone’s attention, I’ll pick up the poop myself sometimes, catch up to the people and cheerily give them the bag as if it were a present.  I’ve even scooped up dog shit in the water. I know it is gross but sometimes I’m mad enough to make a point to these people who think that if their dog goes poop in the water they don’t have to retrieve it.  Sorry, in my opinion, your dog, your responsibility.  If your dog likes to go number two in the water, you need to go out there and get it.  If that isn’t something you are willing to do or your dog’s feces disintegrates in the water, then put your dog in water diapers or keep your dog out of the ocean.  Nothing like handing a dripping bag full of water and dog shit to someone to make a point.

Very occasionally I come across a belligerent person who seems either immune to my “subtle” social encouragement or is actually a bit antagonistic.  I’ve come up with an idea, what about all of us trying  to take  pictures of these offenders and  publishing them?    If it doesn’t teach them, it might teach others.  There’s a few pictures I’d like to get.  I’d like a picture of the guy who lets his dog shit on the Funeral Home lawn (and many other places according to his neighbor) .  I’d also like a pic of the person who thinks that the little bit of grass at Bacon and Narragansett is his or her dog’s official public toilet.  What do you think,  is it a good idea?  I’d love to hear anyone else’s thoughts on how to get people to pick up their dog’s waste.

Photo by Joshua Ganderson via flickr.com

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank Gormlie June 27, 2011 at 9:38 am

Brenda – I liked your home-made OB video!


Shift June 27, 2011 at 9:43 am

Thats my girlfriends dog up there dropping one in the water. Can we get a cool million for the photo?


George (GrokSurf) June 27, 2011 at 10:01 am

Just be glad there’s no ordinance — it could be evidence towards a fine. :-]


DeeDle June 27, 2011 at 11:23 am

This is kind of funny. Pet people think dogs are human and nobody can tell them anything. They can have throat ripping Pit Bulls and they can keep 100 yappers and call them a family. Well there are consequences (like water full of you-know-what done by you-know-who). You want it … you get it. You voted for it .. now you have equal rights for dogs.


Brenda McFarlane June 28, 2011 at 10:30 am

I wasn’t aware that all people think dogs are human. Here I’ve been thinking my dog is a dog. Anyway, please don’t tell Charlie that he has equal rights or we’ll get no peace at mealtime.


Fisherwoman June 27, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Dog beach is disgusting. It seems that this whole city is turning into one big dog toilet. Everywhere I go, dogs are pooping. Maybe this can become the new symbol of America’s Finest City.


Lafe June 27, 2011 at 2:46 pm

Dog beach is fantastic.

Roadsides are littered with cans, plastic bags and worse, adversely affecting wild and plant life. There are bad apples everywhere. Guilty plums too.

Keep your laws off my bitch.


Avery June 27, 2011 at 3:39 pm



Brenda McFarlane June 28, 2011 at 10:22 am

I’m sad you find it disgusting all the time. While leaving dog poop is unacceptable, I don’t actually find properly disposed of dog poo bad. I blame the few irresponsible owners, not dogs or ALL owners. I wish dogs could be everywhere. I say we could have a sign that reads, “Welcome Dogs and Responsible Dogs Owners to San Diego!” That’s because when I see a happy dog, I feel happier.


Wil B Hardigan June 27, 2011 at 12:21 pm

I’ve seen that corner of Bacon & Narragansett. That corner apartment treats that space like it’s own yard, and needs to clean up that mess. I’m surprised nobody has complained to the city about that one. Can’t they get a fine or something?


Allen Lewis June 27, 2011 at 12:49 pm

I live in the small town of Anacortes Wa. and every where that is a recreation area ether the Port or the parks has put up dispensers with bags so you can pick up your dogs shit and it works, not only in Anacortes but all over Washington where it is a recreation area you will find these dispensers. Back in the day when I lived in OB the place you now call dog beach was where we went to dig for clams, don’t think I would want to dig there any more.


Brenda McFarlane June 28, 2011 at 10:35 am

Ocean Beach Dog Wash supplies excellent and very well supplied free bags to Ocean Beach Dog Beach (among other places) in approximately ten conveniently located receptacles. No cost to the city. I wouldn’t dig for clams there but mostly because of pollution from up river.


George (GrokSurf) June 27, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Looks like the dog poop meme is spreading.


Rick Wilson June 27, 2011 at 1:57 pm

A correction regarding water testing – Heal the Bay does not test the water to calculate their grades. They simply calculate grades using an algorithm they developed, based on water testing results from San Diego County Environmental Health Department.

The frequency of water testing and the number of testing locations has decreased due to that state (Arnold) cutting about $300,000 in funds that formerly supported SD County’s program. Recently there was some good news when the Board of Supervisors coughed up $128,000.


Brenda McFarlane June 28, 2011 at 10:23 am

I suspected as much about costs cuts. Thanks Rick for letting us know.


Jane June 27, 2011 at 2:23 pm

At Dog Beach Dog Wash we have been fighting against these dog-poop-leaving scofflaws for 18 years. Yes, the beach is cleaner, but not yet clean enough. We provide more than a half million FREE poop bags a year, in 12 stainless steel containers at the Beach and 3 at Dusty Rhodes Dog Park. We conduct at least 16 Dog Beach Cleanups each year, so please join us every 2nd Sat. of every month from 9 to 11 a.m. and Sept. 17 (California Coastal Cleanup http://www.cleanupday.org ) from 9 am to 12 noon. According to I Love A Clean San Diego, 80% of ocean pollution comes from inland areas, so folks up-river in Lakeside & west down the SD River are not exempt from picking up either. Dogs are not the problem — lazy & irresponsible owners are.
Nice video, too.


Sarah June 27, 2011 at 5:51 pm

Love the video!


Jane June 27, 2011 at 6:53 pm

Here’s an extreme solution from New Hampshire

No excuses after dark now. Talk about Brave New World…?!


Patty Jones June 27, 2011 at 7:57 pm



Rob June 28, 2011 at 7:52 am

Have a couple of hours? How about joining us for a San Diego River cleanup. Volunteers are needed. Afterall, things upstream that aren’t picked up, end up at Dog Beach. Volunteering is easy and fun, visit http://www.sandiegoriver.org/calendar.php for information about the next River Clean-up

In the past few years, our volunteer program has removed more than 1.3 million lbs. of trash from the river. We are getting close to getting at least the main stem of the river trash-free. This is more than 1 million lbs. of trash that would have ended up at the San Diego River Mouth, Dog Beach and the ocean.


BOBOB June 28, 2011 at 9:29 am

I love dogs but dog beach is disgusting. everytime I surf there the smell is overwhelming just trying to get to the waters edge and the lingering thought of infection is always there. I guess it is what it is. Went to the dog beach in delmar for a surf and its a much different experience, not perfect but nowhere near the degradation that we have at dog beach. even just entering the beach from the lot through the “gateway” area where the cool paw art sculptureis will turn your stomach and make any reasonable person shocked by the stench. nasty. as long as the dog owners can have their happy time with their dogs who cares about the beach, ocean and everyone else right. welcome to san diego california, land of entitled jerks who come here from other places so they can tell the world to f-off…yeah thanks for making ob so special.


sandy June 28, 2011 at 10:09 am

Jeez. That’s really gross. something else that’s related to your cause is this video I saw on this green group’s YouTube channel. You should see it.


Susie June 28, 2011 at 11:14 am

I just viewed the video re plastic derby found all over the worlds beaches. Thank you for putting the link. I too, have traveled and swam at many different beaches and do my own water, beach, sidewalk cleanups when I am out. 25 years ago, my first trip to HA, I went to Hanama Bay to snorkel and was so sad to see all sorts of debri in paradise. I picks up a bag full of debri, ie… suntan bottles, sunglasses, glasses straps, bathing suits, plastic bottles, plastic bags, soda cans, nose plugs, goggles…..I had quite a large bag and quite a large collection from one hour in the water. I was so sad that my idea of “paradise” was so grossly polluted. So I continue to this day to volunteer and to carry my bags to “pick up” after others who do not care. Every night I walk and pick up a large bag of trash, cigarette butts, cans, plastic & dog poop in OB. Every night. For 5 years. I never see anyone else doing this when I am walking. Never. My walks take a long time. usually, I get one large bag in a 2 block area.
There is a 95 year old man, MR. Webb, in PT.LOMA, who picks up street debri every day for years and still does it every day. Rain or shine. He walks all over PT.LOMA with his grabber and gets trash on the streets. He is an inspiration. WE all need to just pick up..even if we did not put the trash there to teach others. It’s all of Our problem. I have picked up so much of other peoples dog poop to fill 3 large trash cans. I have even put out plastic bag holders,3, and keep replenishing the supplies weekly in my neighborhood. That is something we all can do and it costs basically nothing. Just our time and energy. So, lets all get to it. and I also wipe off graffiti too.


Michael June 28, 2011 at 10:14 pm

Alcohol isn’t a risk to the human population? Really? Do you realize how often the paramedics were down at the beach because some idiot drank too much? And have you noticed that the OB water isn’t an issue when there isn’t anything coming out the river mouth? I drive over the bridge every day and the river is what smells. It has nothing to do with the dogs. I’ll grant you that a lot of people are idiots and don’t pick up after their dogs. I won’t countenance that and there’re plenty of people doing their best to keep the beach clean despite the morons who don’t care. At last count there were something like a dozen poop bag dispensers at the beach in all kinds of different places, each able to hold 2,000 bags. I’m also one of the people that goes down there to replace the rolls when the dispensers are empty. I know how many rolls we go through down there. Friends of Dog Beach does beach clean ups every month at the very least and sometimes does several weekends in a row. You can’t say people aren’t doing their part. There just aren’t enough of us. There tends to be a lot of poo on the beach, which shouldn’t be happening. You can’t, however, blame the poo for the water quality. It’s most definitely not helping, but the human race generates more pollution than everything else on the planet combined. I guarantee it. That’s what’s messing up our water. You can look at a bunch of places in San Diego and LA, only a few of which are dog beaches, and the water isn’t fit to swim in. And don’t think I’m not including myself in this. I do my best to minimize my environmental impact but I rely on electricity, gasoline and a bunch of other polluting human products just like everybody else.

And for those of you trying to surf, swim, and sunbathe at dog beach, what on earth are you thinking? Dog beaches are for dogs. That’s the whole point. The dog beach in OB especially is supposed to be one of the havens for dogs rather than people. It’s relatively small considering how much space people have to do everything they want. All you have to do is walk a few hundred yards to the south and not be at dog beach anymore. If there was a way to sanitize the sand properly, we’d be doing it. The city probably wouldn’t step up but the locals would. Until such a time as that option is available, dog beach is going to smell like poo and pee because dogs do both all the time there. Even if you pick up the poo, there’s always residue or diarhea that’ll be there. If you don’t want that kind of thing while you’re swimming or doing whatever it is you do at the beach, then pick another spot. By definition dog beach isn’t for you, it’s for dogs.

I always bring bags and pick up my dog’s poo. If my dog poos more than three times and I run out of bags I’ll use a leaf if I have to. It’s unpleasant but the leaf will contain things until I can wash my hands. There aren’t a ton of laws about dog poo because there shouldn’t have to be. The people that have dogs should pick up after them. It’s part of having a dog. And yes, dogs should be treated like family. They have the mental capacity of children and no good parent would ignore their human baby with a full diaper. You change your baby’s diaper and throw the full one in the trash. The principle holds with dogs. You dispose of the poo in a trash can.

Pit bulls aren’t inherently vicious, people have to teach dogs to attack anything. Barking is the same way. It’s learned. That doesn’t mean dogs aren’t family. Almost anything some idiot does to screw up a dog can be undone. I’ve spent many years undoing things people did to destroy dogs. You can’t always turn a dog around, but I’ve rarely seen a dog that can’t be taught anything a person wants to teach if the situation is right.

All of you people don’t want to treat dogs like family and yet blame the dogs for everything that goes wrong. When an 8 year old human child commits a crime, the parents get the blame. Since dogs aren’t responsible human adults, shouldn’t their situation be the same? Dogs aren’t the problem and never have been in any situation. The people are the issue.


BOBOB June 29, 2011 at 2:31 pm

The reason why surfers use the beach is that there is a world class wave that breaks there and has been there ever since the army corps of engineers put in the harbor jettys, long before you decided it would be a good place for your dog to crap and urinate. No one asked me or any other surfers if it would be ok to make it a “dog beach”. Eventually surfrider will step in and the coastal environmental organizations and it won’t be a dog beach anymore. My opinion is in your home you can talk to your dog and believe he has the intelligence of a human, but over here in reality it’s humans first, pets second. sorry you can’t figure that out on your own. When a dog can pick up it’s crap and understand why it’s important I ill treat it like a human.


deb logan June 29, 2011 at 7:45 pm

I manage Twin Ponds in Nashua. I’ve been using pet DNA for quite some time to catch violators with TREMENDOUS results.
The system is incredibly easy to use and the implentation for both getting the DNA and catching the violators is just as easy. My property has over 250 dogs and counting and our property is clean!!!! The program is extremely affordable for the dog owners. I can even show property owners how to use this system at no cost to them while keeping the fee affordable for the renters. Email me at dogdnatoday@gmail.com and I will glady provide your community with more information.


Sally B July 23, 2011 at 9:14 pm

Thanks for this. I pick up whatever I see at OBDB, so afraid of losing it or spoiling it. Grabbed a big one today from stranger dog just before the wave took it away! I am ready to help with this campaign. Check out what Seattle is doing! Very cool vid, might play well in SD!



James March 15, 2012 at 11:38 pm

Dogs pay no taxes. Most don’t do any useful work. People can’t bring useful, productive cows, chickens, pigs, horses to the beach. Why should useless, unproductive mutts be allowed to use beaches? All beaches should be reserved for human use, and enjoyment, only! Their very presence renders the beach less safe, clean, enjoyable for people. Leave your useless feces factory at home!


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