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Dogs trained to sniff out leaks in French drinking water pipe system

The ‘amazing’ dogs are fast and efficient at finding small, silent leaks that other technology cannot trace

Trained dogs help Veolia staff find leaks by sniffing for chlorine traces Pic: Veolia

Dogs have long been used to sniff out drugs, earthquake victims, and even Covid – and now  they are helping to locate water leaks in France.

Successful trials

A trial in Beaufort, Brittany, has been so successful that the utility company Veolia plans to extend the project across the country. 

It has been working with ex-army dog trainers for several years and the tests follow other similarly successful experiments in southern France.

Read more: Trials begin to train dogs to find water leaks in France

Dogs find small ‘silent’ leaks

Séverine Bourserie, director of Les Eaux de Beaufort, said staff had already found and repaired larger leaks using sound technology to hear the running water.

“In that way, we had already saved the equivalent of 100 days of water per year, but we knew there were still smaller, silent leaks. 

“The dogs tracked them down, saving us a further day’s-worth of water per month, and now our network is practically 100% watertight.

“It’s amazing watching the dogs work but it’s also efficient, fast and economical.”

Sniff for chlorine traces

Antoine Letresle, development director at Veolia, said: “In the context of climate change, we have to do all we can to save drinking water.”

Read more: Vigilance, alert, crisis: what France’s four drought warnings mean

Read more: South-west France residents cannot water gardens for three months

He says the project began more than two years ago by getting veterinary advice.

“We needed to be sure that sniffing chlorine would not harm the dogs in any way.

“They are trained to find the traces of chlorine which are present in drinking water. 

“We do not need them to sniff out underground streams.” 

5km of pipes per day

Once it was confirmed the work was safe, tests could begin. The results were encouraging, with the dogs able to locate water leaks quickly, with 90% accuracy.

“A handler and a trained dog can inspect 5km of underground pipes a day, so once all the leaks in a network, even the tiny ones, have been found, the intention is to continue using dogs for maintenance.”

Why do pipes leak?

The network of water pipes in France has been developed piecemeal over the centuries, and is therefore composed of piping from various eras. 

Some of it is very old – and almost all of it is leaking.

“All sorts of things can cause a leak, including heavy traffic, nearby building works, corrosion, faulty washers, and metal fatigue,” said Mr Letresle.

Once a dog has identified a leak, technicians can mend it. Veolia says this is worth doing even for the smallest leak because the effect is cumulative.

More dogs to be trained

“We are only at the beginning of this project. 

“We already have four dogs trained: Nina, Kyrie, Nanky and Kelly. Two of them are German Shepherd dogs, one is a Malinois, and the other is a Border Collie cross.

“The plan is to train more dogs so that we can find and mend water leaks all over the country.

“It means that in the future we will be able to maintain the network more efficiently, so as to completely minimise drinking water lost through leaks.”

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