Puppy power sniffs out water leaks
Sydney Water has its very own team of "dog detectives", and its latest recruit, Joey, is ready to hit the pipes next month.
Joey, a working line springer spaniel, will play a critical role in finding dozens of leaks a year and prevent water loss.
The 10-month-old pup will join Sydney Water’s taskforce of 300 staff maintaining the city's water and wastewater network, supported by an additional 15 staff out proactively looking for hidden leaks.
He joins the utility’s two other wastewater leak detection dogs, Winnie, a working line cocker spaniel, and Ziggy, a working line springer spaniel. Working line dogs are selectively bred for the traits that allow them to excel in working in a specific field.
Primary dog handler Bettina Grieve, who is also a Sydney Water network scientist, told WaterSource about her unique role working with the canines.
“Being a dog handler is simultaneously the most challenging and satisfying work I’ve ever done," she said.
“It’s incredible to see the canine team tackle environmental protection challenges while keeping public health and safety at the forefront. It’s a privilege to be working with Joey, Winnie and Ziggy. I can’t wait to see how the Sydney Water’s pipe leak dog detection team grows in the future!”
Joey is trained to detect chlorine in the water, while Winnie and Ziggy sniff out leaks in Sydney Water’s wastewater network of 26,000 km across Greater Sydney, Illawarra and the Blue Mountains.
In just 7 months, Winnie and Ziggy have cleared 24 areas of wastewater pollution and discovered a number of pollution leaks including illegal dumping of wastewater and trade waste chemicals, wastewater leaks into stormwater canals, pressure mains leaks, and found sources of odour complaints.
The dogs are trained with a ball reward system that teaches positive reinforcement. The dog gets the tennis ball when he finds the water leak. They then use another process called negative reinforcement. If the dog makes a mistake, the ball gets taken away — but Sydney Water stresses that they do not use any form of punishment or hitting.
They are sent out to locations based on the utility’s assessments of locations where there could be leaks due to poor pressure or routine maintenance. The dogs live together at our site in Potts Hill during the week and at a kennel in Arcadia on the weekend.
Sydney Water says that like guide dogs, if the public encounter the leak detection dogs going about their job, they shouldn’t be patted.
In addition to the dogs, the utility uses technology including acoustic listening devices to find leaks underground.
Sydney Water says that it is saving 56 ML a day due to its proactive leak programs, with an average of 40 leaks and breaks per day. Most of these are minor leaks with minimal water loss and do not impact property.