Sniffer dogs to detect leaks in drinking water networks

Dogs have an unfailing flair, as we know. They are able to detect drugs, explosives, and even certain diseases, even before a medical diagnosis is made in an individual.

On the strength of this observation, the Veolia group now tracks water leaks using the sense of smell of dogs! Every year, millions of cubic meters of water escape into nature, and the leaks are sometimes complicated to spot, hence the idea of ​​using chlorine sniffer dogs.

The experiment has been carried out for more than two and a half years on the group’s various drinking water networks in France, and each time it pays off.

“Currently, to locate leaks, we inject helium into the water”,
explains David Maisonneuve, technical manager of the drinking water network at Veolia. When the helium escapes, detectors make it possible to spot it and therefore identify the leak zone.

The system has proven itself, but sometimes it is necessary to intervene in areas that are difficult to access, especially in the countryside, where access to the network is complicated.

“The dog has a flair that no machine can match, no matter how sophisticated.”

David Maisonneuve

at franceinfo

The idea is to gain in speed and efficiency, by multiplying the detection modes.

Dog handlers and their German shepherds, trained to detect water leaks, surrounded by members of the VEOLIA group.  (VEOLIA)

The Veolia group currently works with two dog handlers and four German shepherds. The animal is wired, conditioned, and he knows he is going to work. He is then given a ball with the smell of chlorine, a substance used to ensure the sanitary quality of water.
“In fact, the dog is educated through play, he does not seek chlorine but his ball, or his toy which has the smell of chlorine”, explains David Maisonneuve.

When the animal finds a water leak, it is rewarded by playing with its master who does not hesitate to throw the ball again to continue the action. “Every time it’s the game that takes precedence”, laughs the expert. The technique is based on a perfect complicity between the animal and its master. It is necessary to be attentive to all the reactions of the dog which marks the stop, when it discovers a leak.

Playing with chlorine-soaked balls to help these German Shepherds detect water leaks.   (VEOLIA)

And it begins to spread across the territory. The advantage is that the dog can detect minute leaks. David Maisonneuve explains that consumption levels are monitored on a daily basis using digital tools. Consumption volumes are defined by zone, and alert systems are put in place .

“At night, when the water consumption is zero or practically zero, if the minimum consumption levels increase, this undoubtedly reflects the presence of a leak somewhere in the network”, says David Maisonneuve. Dogs are then valuable allies, because their flair allows them to spot very small leaks on the network, which is not always the case with detection tools.

“You should know that a water leak is whistling in the underground network”, explains the Veolia expert. The technicians therefore work with microphones to locate them, but also with sound specialists, capable of identifying the “sound” of a water leak.

Here again, the canine system is effective in remote areas, without access valves, or with plastic pipes that do not allow good sound propagation. “We saw dogs mark an escape in an urban environment, in the heart of the noise and the bitumen”concludes David Maisonneuve, admiringly.

There are sniffer dogs for all kinds of research.  Drugs, explosives, diseases (Covid and cancer in particular), and here, a sniffer dog to detect bed bugs in a residence.  (Illustration) (DAREK SZUSTER / PHOTOPQR / L'ALSACE / MAXPPP)

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