Clever dogs have a nose for leaks

Denzel sniffs out leaks with his handler. Image: Cape-SPC

Water utilities around the world are recruiting canines as part of their drive to pinpoint and find water leaks.

As dogs' noses are finely tuned to the distinctive smell of chlorine traces in tap water, even when the leaking water never comes to the surface, the dogs can detect tiny amounts of chlorine escaping up through the ground.

Now a new scheme from Sydney Water, Australia, is hoping to harness hounds to help them in their battle against water loss.

"We hope to be on the front line in environmental and conservation detection dog work."

Nicole Harvey, Sydney Water

Sydney Water's program manager and detection dog handler Nicole Harvey works with four dogs - two sewer leak detection dogs called Winnie and Ziggy, Joey the water leak detection dog and a newly introduced 14-week old pup called Hydro, who is the first detection dog to be trained internally by Sydney Water.

Leak detecting canines may not be as uncommon as you think.

Cape-SPC are the UK’s only canine-assisted water leak detection team, and their specially trained dogs are already being used across the country - saving millions of litres of water. The dogs, spaniels called Snipe and Denzel, have been trained by ex-military dog handlers to detect the smell of chlorine in treated water.

Denzel sniffs out leaks with military precision

Their nose for leaks has already saved water companies across the UK thousands. In Scotland, Cape-SPC's leak detecting dogs are used by Scottish Water in rural areas to help find underground leaks.

Water leak detection dog Denzel found a leak on a Scottish Water line, saving the public utility £365,000.

In England, United Utilities has also deployed Cape-SPC's specially trained dogs to help locate leaks in rural areas where water does not always show on the surface. When Snipe positively identified a leak, the company was able to repair the burst pipe quickly, saving around £44,000.

Back in 2014, another UK utility, Southern Water, became one of the first utilities to deploy a dog. Hector the bloodhound was a former police dog and rather than leaks, Hector was used to sniff out fats, oils and grease (FOG) which can block up sewers and cause pollution and internal flooding.

Steve and Hector on the frontlines

Hector's owner was an ex-police dog handler called Steve Williams, who on leaving the police force became a network protection and enforcement officer. He and Hector worked together for five years in the police, before the faithful hound retired from the service and found a second career in the water sector.

Sadly Hector passed away a few years ago but his legacy as a grime fighter lives on.