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Stormwater Case Studies Search Results

Case Study Location: Texas: Austin

Case Study Title: Educating Pet Owners and Gardeners

Minimum Control Measure: Public education and outreach on stormwater impacts

Scoop the Poop FlyerAustin's Watershed Protection and Development Review Department and Parks and Recreation Department have joined forces to help clean up parks and trails through the Scoop the Poop program, which provides Mutt Mitt dispensers in many of the popular parks. Another Austin partnership encourages stormwater-friendly gardening.

Location: Texas: Austin
Annual Rainfall: 34 inches
Population: 656,562 (2000 Census)
Year the Program Started: 2000

Contact Information:

Sara Heilman
Watershed Protection and Development Review Exit EPA Site
PO Box 1088
Austin, TX 78767
Phone: (512) 974-3540  


Austin's Watershed Protection and Development Review Department (WPDR) supports several education and outreach programs to increase awareness of water pollution and educate the public on how they can help reduce stormwater pollution.

Keeping Pet Owners Responsible

According to a study conducted by the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) in 2000, approximately 30,308 dogs live in the Town Lake watershed. An estimated 1,327 pounds of dog waste is deposited into the watershed every day, or nearly 250 tons per year.

The Scoop the Poop program, started in 2000, is run by the WPDR and Parks and Recreation Department. Its goal is to help abate water pollution from pet waste. The departments provide more than 100 Mutt Mitt dispensers and biodegradable bags in Austin area parks. WPDR buys the signs, dispensers, and bags. The Parks and Recreation Department installs the signs and dispensers and refills the bags. In the beginning the project was labor-intensive because of ordering the materials and installing the signs and dispensers, but now it requires less staff time. Pet owners follow the directions printed on the signs and deposit the filled Mutt Mitt bags in the trash. Citizens can call the number printed on the sign to ask the Parks and Recreation Department to refill the dispensers.

Photo of Mutt Mitt box The city uses hanging Mutt Mitt dispensers filled with Mutt Mitt bags purchased from Intelligent Products, Inc. Exit EPA Site, but many other good companies provide similar products. The manufacture does not give the city a discount on the dispensers ($59.50 each) or Mutt Mitt bags ($58.00 for 800 bags) but does give a discount on the shipping. The manufacturer also states that the bags degrade in landfills. The bags are airtight and easy to use, and they fit hands of all sizes. The bags measure 13 inches by 9 inches and have a puncture-resistant bottom. The outdoor dispenser is all-weather aluminum and easy to load.

WPDR found that many members of neighborhood associations wanted the signs for their open spaces. WPDR had extra Scoop the Poop signs, so they offered them to the neighborhood associations at cost ($12.50 each). The neighborhood associations then ordered dispensers and bags from a company of their choice.

WPDR advertises the Scoop the Poop program by sending a flyer to veterinarians and humane societies and presenting a booth at dog walk events. Most citizens become aware of the campaign when they visit parks and see the signs.

The City of Austin also has a Pet Waste Ordinance (section 3-3-7 Defecation by Dogs and Cats). The ordinance states that 'it shall be unlawful for any person to fail to promptly remove and dispose of, in a sanitary manner, feces left by a dog or cat being handled by that person on property, public or private, other than the premises of the owner or handler of such dog or cat.' The potential fine is $86 and the Park Police enforce the ordinance. The Health Department responds to reports of homeowners failing to pick up after their pets.

Stormwater-Friendly Gardening

Grow Green Earth-Wise Guide to Lawn Care Grow Green is a partnership between WPDR and the Texas Cooperative Extension, in cooperation with more than 30 local nurseries. WPDR has dedicated one staff member to the Grow Green program. WPDR provides participating nurseries with copies of informative, eye-catching brochures to display for their customers. The brochures help customers pick the least toxic product (if they need one at all) and choose the right plants. They encourage gardeners to follow 10 basic principles for stormwater-friendly gardening:

  • Plant native and adapted plants and trees.
  • Reduce turf areas.
  • Test the soil before applying fertilizer.
  • Leave grass clippings on the lawn instead of bagging them.
  • Reduce the fertilizer application rate.
  • Choose fertilizers carefully.
  • Fertilize only if necessary.
  • Never fertilize before a rain.
  • Use pesticides as a last resort.

In addition to the brochures, WPDR offers a plant guide and workshops for gardeners.

WPDR and the Texas Cooperative Extension have also teamed with Texas A&M University to conduct a research project to assess the potential for off-site movement of nitrogen and phosphorus from various organic and inorganic nutrient sources and to assist the City of Austin and Travis County Cooperative Extension in developing environmentally sound recommendations for fertilizing turf grass (PDF) (4 pp, 334K) Exit EPA Site.

Effectiveness of the Program

For the Scoop the Poop program, effectiveness is measured by the number of Mutt Mitts distributed, which has increased dramatically over the past three years:

YearMutt Mitts Distributed

There are now 115 Scoop the Poop boxes installed throughout the city. Assuming approximately 0.25 pounds of pet waste is collected in each bag, the City believes it has removed 135,000 pounds of waste (along with associated bacteria) from the watershed in this year alone. The City also feels that the program has more widespread effects on water quality as more and more people clean up after their pets in their neighborhoods and not just in City parks.

Regarding the Grow Green program, in a recent survey of nursery staff in Austin, 14 out of 16 say that the Grow Green program has affected their sales in 2003 compared to 2002. When asked how sales of the following items have been affected,

  • 14 say sales of plants in the Grow Green Plant Guide have increased
  • 4 say sales of chemical fertilizers have decreased
  • 11 say sales of organic or natural fertilizers have increased
  • 5 say chemical pesticide sales have decreased
  • 11 say least toxic/organic pesticide sales have increased

When nursery staff were asked if they found the Grow Green sheets helpful, 13 replied that they were very helpful and 7 replied that they were helpful (out of 20). When asked how helpful the Plant Guide has been, 16 replied "very helpful" while 4 replied "helpful" (out of 20).

The City is also conducting targeted educational programs as a follow-up to the Grow Green program in the Stillhouse Hollow area. The City is conducting monthly water quality sampling of nutrients in the spring to assess the effectiveness of the educational programs. The data from the Stillhouse Neighborhood Study (PDF). (25 pp, 4.1MB) Exit EPA Site can be found here.

Additional Materials Related to this Case Study:

Additional Resources and Tools for this Minimum Control Measure

EPA presents this case study as an example to which Phase I and Phase II municipal stormwater programs can refer as they develop their own stormwater programs. Although EPA has reviewed the case studies, they should not be considered officially endorsed by the Agency and are not intended to represent full compliance with EPA’s stormwater Phase II minimum control measures. Each community must decide on the appropriate BMPs necessary to meet its unique permit requirements and local conditions.

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Last updated on June 08, 2007 9:09 AM