Contact 13 Investigates
Zoo found dumping animal wastewater into City streets
Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- For several years, Contact 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears has been exposing problems at the Las Vegas Zoo.
Now, it's the City of Las Vegas who's finding a problem that endangers public health and safety.
As Darcy reports, the City says the zoo is using a city street as a toilet.
Just like it's illegal to drain your swimming pool into the street, the same goes for the zoo and its pools and ponds.
But there's a big difference.
At the zoo, the otter pool and alligator ponds often serve as toilets for the inhabitants. Just like the water in the emu, flamingo and turtle exhibits.
So when city inspectors found the zoo dumping all that untreated animal wastewater into the street, they cried foul.
"Very big no-no," says Dennis Campbell, an environmental health manager with the Health District's Solid Waste Section. Though they aren't involved in the zoo case, they do investigate illegal water dumping all over the valley.
"And we come down really hard on people for that kind of stuff, because there is a severe potential for disease transmission, especially if it's in an area where the public could be exposed to it."
Former zoo employees who contacted Action News say the zoo typically dumps its water in the south corner of the property where we found a lot of mud.
Then it runs over the sidewalk and down Rancho Drive into the storm drain in front of the Catholic Charities Thrift Store.
Catholic Charities employees we spoke to say they see water all the time but never knew what it was. A Catholic Charities vice president who didn't want to go on camera, says the thrift store manager has complained to the zoo about it multiple times, but they've seen little change.
It's a familiar scenario to the Health District.
"We've seen cases where they said, yeah, we know it's happening, but they haven't responded in an appropriate manner."
The zoo pond water may at times look clear, but you obviously wouldn't want to drink it. That's the main reason why, no matter the amount, it's illegal to dump it into the street.
"You can't just let one person do it at certain concentrations, even though it may be a small quantity. They have to comply with those existing regulations," explains Dr. Thomas Piechota, PhD, PE, an environmental expert at UNLV.
Everything from our toilets, showers and kitchens is considered wastewater and is supposed to go to the sanitary sewer. That's so it can go on to water treatment plants before being released as clean water into Lake Mead.
If it's dumped in the street, it goes into the storm drains.
" When it goes into our storm drains," says Dr. Piechota, "it' doesn't have a chance to go through the treatment plants. It goes directly into the Las Vegas Wash and then goes directly into Lake Mead. And Lake Mead is our drinking water source. So it's gonna potentially contaminate our drinking water source in that case."
On top of that, Dennis Campbell says "There's potential it could contaminate the groundwaters of the State."
The last time we were at the zoo reporting a story, Zoo Director Pat Dingle had an employee come out and hand us a piece of zoo letterhead that said "the zoo will have no comment to Ch. 13 on this or any matter."
City officials say they're working with Dingle on a solution that won't bankrupt the zoo, but will bring them into compliance with the law.
The city couldn't talk on camera for this story because of their ongoing case with the zoo.
In addition to the water dumping, city inspectors have cited the zoo for the same building and electrical code violations OSHA found in a recent inspection.
They involve lack of lighted exit signs, exposed wiring, and improperly wired light fixtures.