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If the rule of law can’t get you to pick up after your dog, maybe the fear of unleashing a “brown plague” of bacteria can.

In a newsletter published last week, Emily Franc of Anacostia Riverkeeper and Dan Melman of the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District write that the biblical-sounding scourge poses a threat to “creating a swimmable, fishable Anacostia River.” The authors cite “studies of water samples in urban watersheds,” like that of the Anacostia, showing that “20 to 30 percent of the bacteria found in the water is from dog waste.” (Gross!)

“Skipping scooping up after your dogs is a significant problem,” the authors explain. “This unsanitary condition is often referred to as the ‘brown plague.’ Given that one gram of pet waste can harbor 23 million fecal coliform bacteria as well as parasites and roundworms, the ‘brown plague’ label is apt.”

More specific to the area, Franc and Melman note that Canal Park—near the Navy Yard Metro station—has a “special storm water capture system” that can be contaminated by pet waste. The water captured by the system is “filtered, treated, and stored to provide ‘clean’ water for the plants irrigation, Canal Park Ice Rink in winter, and the dancing fountains and other water features in which children play every day of summer.”

Further south, the authors point out, Yards Park has some patches that send run-off into its “Canal Basin and Waterfall features, as well as the river.” “By ensuring that these areas stay clean, you are helping to make our community and its watershed a cleaner and healthier environment for all,” the pair continues.

You can read the full letter here.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery; h/t @JDLand