Sydney Water recruits sniff out wastewater leaks

Sydney Water has employed and tested a variety of high-tech means of maintaining its extensive network including sonar arrays, mathematical modelling, VR and IoT technology.

But in a first for Australia, it’s now using specially trained dogs to detect wastewater leaks from cracked pipes deep below the ground.

The state owned utility has deployed the nation’s first fully trained wastewater dogs, a Cocker Spaniel called Winnie and an English springer Spaniel called Ziggy.

English springer Spaniel Ziggy, another Sydney Water recruit.

Both dogs have completed several months of training and are now being used to help to prevent environmental contamination and protect public health by finding leaks before they become a problem.

“Winnie and Ziggy will help us to find and fix hidden leaks from the 26,000 kilometres of wastewater network, which if left undetected can lead to overflows into our creeks, waterways and the environment,” NSW water minister Melinda Pavey said.

“As far we know, no other water utility around the world has trained dogs to detect leaks and odours at levels as low as these dogs can detect.

“Winnie and Ziggy are able to identify the presence of sewage in minute concentrations, even when we might think it is okay.”

Sydney Water General Manager of Customer, Strategy and Engagement Maryanne Graham said the dogs can find leaks in places that may otherwise go undetected, for example if a leak is occurring deep under the ground.

“The dogs have an unbelievable sense of smell so when our regular methods are restricted by access for example, we can use the dogs to investigate and identify leaks,” Ms Graham said.

Detecting chlorine

Dog trainer Steve Austin was approached by Sydney Water after he successfully trained a dog to detect leaks in WA’s water supply by sniffing out chlorine.

“The wastewater dog is a brand new thing,” he told Government News.

“The dogs can find polluted water before a leak gets bad, which saves a lot of money and a lot of environmental damage.”

Mr Austin says a wastewater dog takes five to six months to train. But it must be the right kind of dog – ideally a working dog with a high hunting drive and an ability to get on with people.

Ziggy and Winnie have now been working in the field for about a month after passing recruitment with flying colours.

“They had to find live finds in the field before they were accepted and they passed all the tests,” Mr Austin  said.

It’s expected they’ll be on duty five days a week, working short periods through the day with the reward of a tennis ball at the end.

Mr Austin is currently training a puppy, Splash, as a chlorine detecting dog for the Sydney Water’s drinking water.

Sydney Water manages more than 50,000 kilometres of water and wastewater pipes across Greater Sydney, Blue Mountains and the Illawarra.

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