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Water Today Title May 30, 2024
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Scottish Water has been deploying a team of specially trained dogs to help locate water main leaks in difficult to access rural areas where the water does not always show on the surface.

“On some occasions we use sniffer dogs because they come into their own in some remote and rural locations where leaks and bursts can be difficult to detect on boggy, wet moorland, farmland, hills, or valleys. The sniffer dogs augment what we already do across the country with technology. Their work will be carried out when their sensitive noses and mobility are deemed to be more effective than our usual methods. We plan to increase their usage in other rural parts of Scotland in the future.”-- Keith Sinclair, Scottish Water—a publicly owned water utility providing essential water services to more than 2.6 million homes and 150,000 business premises across Scotland

WATERTODAY reached out to Keith Sinclair (Media Manager at Scottish Water) in an email exchange to learn more about Scottish Water and Team Canine-- Springer Spaniels Kilo and Denzel, Cocker Spaniel Mylo, and Tico, a Labrador Cocker Spaniel cross. Kilo, Denzel, Mylo, and Tico have been trained by ex-military dog handlers to detect the smell of chlorine in treated water.

WT: Please give our viewers a sense of the services Scottish Water provides.

Sinclair: Scottish Water operates and maintains more than 230 water treatment works 1,800 wastewater treatment works across the country – which are connected by more than 60,000 miles of pipes.

Scottish Water has 31,000 miles of water mains and its water supply system is quite different to the majority of systems in England, reflecting the geography and topography of the country.

WT: What have the dogs been able to achieve in difficult to access terrain?

Sinclair: Sniffer dogs that are being used to help find leaking water mains in Scotland have scored some big successes with the discovery of 21 suspected leaks in the Borders and East Lothian recently.

Scottish Water has been deploying a team of specially trained dogs to help locate leaks in pipes in rural areas where the water does not always show on the surface.

WT: Can you tell us about the teamwork involved between Scottish Water, the dogs, and Cape SPC, the company based near Warrington, England, who provide theservice and own the dogs.

Sinclair: According to Stewart Hamilton, a Scottish Water customer services operations team manager who has been working with Cape SPC:

We take our responsibility to manage water very seriously and since 2006 leakage has been reduced by over 50% due to increased investment and pressure management.

We use modern technology such as ground microphones, correlators, hydrophones, and other devices to pinpoint the exact location of underground assets and leaks. However, some bursts in rural locations are more difficult to pinpoint and we are always looking for innovative ways to do the job more effectively and to continue reducing leakage.

That is where these sniffer dogs come in because their sensitive noses can detect treated mains water at extremely low concentrations.

When the dogs help pinpoint the exact locations of leaks we then come back to that point, investigate, excavate, and repair the bursts.

WT: When would you be alerted to call in Team Canine?

Sinclair: It is often very difficult in wet, boggy terrain to source leaks, but dogs are part of the solution. We call in the team when we see an increase in flows in our data.

It is effective using the dogs in rural and remote areas and when the weather is wet. The handlers walk the mains, following a mains app, and the dogs are very efficient and differentiate between the smells of surface water and treated water.

WT: What makes dogs so good at this?

Sinclair: Luke Jones, managing director of Cape SPC, tells us that the dogs’ noses are an amazing tool that can be used in many different situations. The dogs’ sense of smell is about 40 times greater than human beings because they have up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses compared with our six million. They are trained by scent association and rewarded for smelling chlorine, which rises to the surface from pipes, with ‘prizes’ of balls, toys, or treats.

WT: How do the dogs signal a leak?

Sinclair: Luke tells us that detection methods are the same across several industries. This particular scent of chlorinated water is paired with a reward.

You might see the dog start wind scenting nose closer to the ground, tail wagging a little bit more getting a bit more intensity with the search and then ultimately once it gets to the point of the leak detection it will just freeze usually nose down, bum up, tail wagging. That is the clear indication that he has found something and is expecting a reward. The dogs can differentiate between rainwater, stagnant water, and chlorinated water – which makes them especially useful in a rainy climate.

WT: Once the dogs have pinpointed the spot what do the handlers from Cape SPC do?

Sinclair: First off Luke tells us the dog must be distracted away from the spot, so he does not muddy the water in his excitement. Usually, a ball or a toy can distract him. It is all about energy management with a dog. The rewards keep up his enthusiasm.

Then a sample of the water is collected, a DPD4 tablet is crushed in the sample and the water turns pinkish – an indicator that the water is chlorinated. Amazingly the dogs have been 100% accurate every time.

Using our map app, the location is recorded, photos are taken, a confirmed leak is logged, and an appointment is then booked for the repairs.

WT: Is Scottish Water planning to enlist the dogs for more detection?

Sinclair: Scottish Water is planning to use the dogs in some other rural parts of Scotland this year after deploying them recently in the Borders and East Lothian, using enhanced leak detection, improved training methodologies and the integration of technologies for secondary confirmations of leakage discoveries.

The dogs found 21 ‘points of interest’ or suspected leaks in the Ettrickbridge, East Linton, Hawick, Jedburgh and Mosstower to Hownam areas and Scottish Water repaired, or plans to repair 12 of these, after the leaks were checked and confirmed.

Luke also tells us that using dogs to help people like the police and border security search for drugs and explosives is well known. This newly revealed specialty of dogs helping the water industry is an exciting development. Cape SPC really hopes dogs can help people in more parts of the rural network going forward.


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