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Sniffer dogs detect leaking water mains

18 Apr Sniffer dogs are being used to help find leaking water mains in the Scottish Borders and East Lothian.

Cocker spaniel Mylo tracks down a leaking water main
Cocker spaniel Mylo tracks down a leaking water main

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.

Four dogs – springer spaniels Kilo and Denzel, cocker spaniel Mylo, and Tico, a labrador-cocker cross – have been trained by ex-military dog handlers to detect the smell of chlorine in treated water.

Scottish Water is working with Cape SPC, a company based near Warrington, who provide the service and own the dogs.

The utility company is planning to use the dogs in 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. Scottish Water has repaired, or plans to repair 12 of these, after the leaks were checked and confirmed.

Stewart Hamilton, a Scottish Water customer services operations team manager who has been working with Cape SPC, said: “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’s where these sniffer dogs come in because their sensitive noses can detect treated mains water at very 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.”

He added: “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.

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“It’s really 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.”

Springer spaniel Kilo at work
Springer spaniel Kilo at work

Luke Jones, managing director of Cape SPC, said: “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.

“Using dogs to help people like the police and border security search for drugs and explosives is well known, but there are a host of other applications that we are exploring. We really enjoy this work with Scottish Water and we hope that the dogs can be used to help locate leaks in more parts of the rural network going forward.

“Initial trials were held a few years ago but our approach and versatility has evolved considerably and we are really pleased with these latest successes in the Borders and East Lothian and are confident of achieving more in the future.”

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

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