The Best Kept Secret

What's Your Beef?

Jerry Schuster

One of the songs I remember from my childhood days in northeastern Montana is “Cool Water” by the Sons of the Pioneers. Yes, for you naysayers, we had radio and records back then, so get over it. Some of the lyrics of that song seem so relevant to the present discussions about water quality and quantity currently swirling around the Gallatin Valley. “All day I’ve faced the barren waste without the taste of water, cool, clear water,” or words to that effect; I can’t remember back that far. Okay, I’ve added the word “clear” for purposes of this article.

Seems the burning question is, what does the future hold for Bozeman’s water supply and quality? With all these Californians and one couple from North Dakota moving into the Valley, along with us regular Montana folk who appreciate what this area has to offer in our retirement years, will there be enough cool, clear water to go around?

I have been trying to get educated about Bozeman’s watershed. This consists of reading some well-researched articles about the topic. I can’t cite any science for my views, so get off your high horse. For purposes of this article I rely on my senses of smell and sight while living and hiking around here.

What I’ve come up with is a theory about a major source of local watershed contamination. Problem: it involves a best kept secret. Therefore, I must advise the following before allowing you to read further. Do not allow your children or grandchildren to read the rest of this article; it might cause major nightmares or unruly behavior. Also the remainder of the article should not be read or discussed with sensitive people, persons with mood swings or low self-esteem. I do not want to be responsible for any consequences of these folks’ reading the entirety of this article. Quit reading right now.

Okay, you did not follow my advice and are continuing to read. You’re on your own. You probably can’t keep a secret anyway.

We will start with a brief review of the measures being taken or suggested to protect our water supply from pollution. These measures include forest management and natural infrastructure projects which we can do now.

I really like the idea of those nano-microbes in the soil and plants doing most of the heavy lifting to help provide pure water. How cool, how clear, how water! Managing our forests, avoiding wildfires (say what?) and limiting chemicals used to fight those wildfires are all part of the strategic plan. Heard there was a plan to eliminate some of the lightning strikes this summer, but believe that was in a science fiction magazine, so don’t quote me on it. If we got real serious, we would limit the number and location of all those second and third houses, cabins and the like being built in the forests, but that is probably in a far-off time. If we didn’t have to protect all those fancy structures, there would be no need to drop the chemicals. Just let the forests burn; that’s what they are supposed to do occasionally.

We are constantly reminded about all the chemicals that enter the soil and water from our green lawns in Bozeman. However, our subdivision rules require green, weed-free lawns, and I am not going to go out and dig up all of those dandelions by hand. Hard on my back and knees. Sorry, it’s chemicals for now.

There will also soon be a need for new concrete and metal infrastructure water treatment facilities in the Gallatin Valley; all big and expensive projects. The locals just cry each time one of these projects comes up for financing. All these accouterments (this word typically refers to accessories for clothing)just to accommodate us folks moving in on their territory.

Okay, so that is a quick review of the watershed situation and pollution abatement plans as I read most of the materials on the subject. Now on to that best kept secret that no one seems to talk about. Well, here it is—DOG POOP. Yes, there are about 26,000 dogs in the Valley, and on any given day a lot of them are running around unleashed in the town and surrounding hiking trails and backcountry forests. A survey taken some years ago sponsored by The Bozeman Daily Chronicle revealed that about 90 percent of persons using city trails disregarded the “on leash” signs. Okay, I imagine with all the publicity and education on the matter, the figure is now down to a low 89.765 percent.

Here it is in as plain and simple language as I can use. Your dogs can poop anywhere nature calls along the trail, road, backcountry or stream. Guess where that stuff eventually ends up? Yup, in a costly water treatment plant, where we spend a lot of money to clean up your mess. Otherwise, this polluted water would of course end up in your bathtub! In your dish and clothes washing water! In your…gulp…water glass! Oh, no, I have just reached my quota of exclamation points (!) for the month, and will have to tone it down a bit.

Anyway, back to the topic. For the most part, Bozeman dog owners are people who care for their pets and the environment. They leash their dogs and pick up after them. They dispose of the doggie bags in proper receptacles.

But there are obviously a significant number who seem oblivious to the fact that their unleashed and unattended dogs can poop anywhere, and that this stuff eventually becomes part of our water quality problem.

I’m not done yet. I feel the need to elaborate. Street and mountain bikers with loose dogs; sorry, you can’t ride and watch your unleashed pet. Same with trail and street joggers . Most of you can’t keep up with your unleashed dog, so it is usually way in front of you and pooping wherever. I know you plan to pick it up on your way back, but, oh gosh, where is it? Some unlucky hiker on the trail probably stepped in it. Takes a lot of time and effort to clean my hiking boots after we finish one of those hikes.

Who likes to hike the trails or float the rivers while constantly bumping into, stepping on and smelling dog poop? Have you hiked the “M” trail lately? Bring a gas mask and watch where you step. I quit taking our out-of-town guests on that hike, so as to not embarrass this community.
It only takes a small percentage of owners who don’t care about the rules or the reasons to pick up after their pets which allows this mess to happen.
There it is folks, the best kept secret in the Gallatin Valley is out. Sorrrry! Oh well, now that it is out, let’s do something about it. It is as simple as leashing your dogs and picking up after them, then depositing the poop in proper receptacles, especially while out around Lyman Creek, Sourdough Creek and Hyalite Creek.

Ahhh, water, cool, clear water. Big part of the problem can now be discussed freely since the best kept secret is out. Come on Bozeman dog owners, you can do better! I’m in trouble now, just used another exclamation point (!). Big trouble for sure. 

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