CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WVEC) – Dog waste is the source of high levels of bacteria in the Indian River, making the water too dangerous for recreational use. That’s according to a study conducted by The Elizabeth River Project and the Hampton Roads Sanitation District.

“We started looking at the water conditions here in Indian River about 4 years ago and found out it had a failing grade. A lot of that was due to high bacteria in the water, and at that time we didn’t' know what was causing the high bacteria,” Elizabeth River Project Deputy Director of Restoration Joe Rieger said.

HRSD took 90 samples from the river to determine the source. About 90% of the samples indicated the bacteria came from dogs.

The Elizabeth River Project is making a big push for citizens to clean up after their pets. It’s also encouraging homeowners to sign up for the River Star Homes program, which educates people on ways to keep the river clean and helps homeowners with stormwater runoff projects.

“We built what's called a living shoreline, which basically is a marsh with grasses in front of the property; and then we also planted a bunch of shrubs in front of that,” Rieger said.

When it rains, the marsh absorbs the bacteria, stopping it from spilling into the river. Homeowners can also build rain barrels and rain gardens to help absorb the runoff. But the simplest thing people can do is simply pick up after their pets.

“So what we're trying to do is we're trying to change people's behavior so that we can actually get people safely on the water to recreate. Some things that people can do is pick up their pet waste in their backyard. So a lot of people do it while they're walking their dogs but a lot of times people don't pick up in their backyards, and it will accumulate for a couple of weeks and then it rains and then it ends up into the river,” Rieger said.

More information on the River Star Homes program can be found here.