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Mill Creek Canyon's winter parking lot is filthy, Mill Creek's water is dirty, and the source of the problem is dogs.

Or more accurately, the blame lies with dog owners, who must start cleaning up after their pets or lose the privilege of taking them into the canyon."We get a lot of complaints (about dog waste) from people in the wintertime from people who cross-country ski. We're asking people to take responsibility for their dogs. We don't want to close the canyon to them," said Mike Seig, U.S. Forest Service district ranger.

The Forest Service has put up a large sign near the canyon's winter parking lot explaining all this to dog owners. The agency has also provided a plastic-bag dispenser and a locked disposal bin for dog owners' use.

Over the past three weeks or so, dog owners have deposited about 100 pounds of waste in the bin. But evidence that many are ignoring the sign is unavoidable.

Besides creating an unsightly, smelly annoyance, the dogs represent a potential health hazard. When the snow melts, dog waste ends up in the creek and contaminates the water with fecal coliform, a bacterium that can contribute to illness and disease.

The problem generally has been more pronounced during late winter or early spring thaws. During the past couple of years, however, the coliform counts have been consistently high year-round, said Florence Reynolds, Salt Lake City's water quality coordinator.

Currently, Mill Creek's water isn't treated for culinary use. But the stream's quality is protected under state clean-water regulations, which require that sources of degradation be controlled or eliminated, Reynolds said.

Dogs aren't allowed at all in Big Cottonwood or Little Cottonwood canyons, the valley's main watersheds. People may take their dogs as far as the sludge-drying beds in City Creek Canyon.

But coliform counts in City Creek's water have been unusually high, too, indicating dog owners are ignoring the rules, Reynolds said.